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Archive for September 26, 2022

Sept. 26, 2022 — Small = mighty

After a slightly harrowing trip through a thunderstorm on the way back from The Proving Grounds, we’re taking some time to reflect on what we’ve just seen at the third National High School Invitational.

I guess the theme that I’ve seen the last three days parallels one that I have more often than not over a third of a century of writing about field hockey. Despite the prevailing narrative and expectations, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better in field hockey.

I had a nice chat with Wendy Wilson, the field hockey coach at Yorktown Tabb (Va.). Not so long ago, Tabb and other school under a certain enrollment number had to play “unclassified” field hockey. It was almost as if the Virginia High School League had put the smaller schools — many of whom also had girls’ basketball as a fall sport — under a bowl while the anointed larger schools competed for “the state championship.” Tabb would overcome, winning a number of state titles over the years. And in 2016, the VHSL went to four divisions — none were labeled “unclassified.”

I watched a small private school, Houston Kinkaid (Tex.) go 3-0 on the weekend, beating our preseason No. 1, our No. 1 team from 2009, and a Pennsylvania state finalist from last year. The team, led by U.S. women’s national teamer Mia Abello, played quick, layered hockey, and are now 8-0 heading into a mid-week derby with Houston St. John’s (Tex.).

I also had a chance to talk with former All-Big Ten selectee Tiffany Fodera, who participated in this site’s Game of the Decade back in 1997. It was also the final game I covered when I was with the dailies. Fodera played for Allentown (N.J.), a small school which played in The Shore Conference despite being as far from the New Jersey coast as you could get, but won a state championship against one of the nation’s best teams.

I also watched a five-foot spark of a field hockey player named Olivia Bent-Cole, a senior with Cherry Hill Camden Catholic (N.J.), as she took on Episcopal Academy. Bent-Cole, along with Abello and Josie Hollamon of Delmar (Del.), are part of the current U.S. women’s national team pool. It’s heady stuff, but the Camden Catholic side were dancing along the sidelines while waiting to be let onto the field for the EA game. And once the teams were playing, Bent-Cole scooted around and under her competitors, making things happen.

We ended our weekend by watching a team from our nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island. East Greenwich, the defending champion, lost 3-0 to Summit Kent Place (N.J.) and earlier lost by one to Houston St. John’s (Tex.), then bested Dexter (Mich.) 3-0.

To be sure, smaller schools have always given me the best stories. I thought it was really, really cool that the first of the generation of players to go after the national record for goals scored in field hockey, Lexi Smith, came from a former steel town, Florence, N.J.

And currently, the town with the best team in America (Delmar, Del.) is one representing a town of 2,100 right on the border of Delaware and Maryland. Our No. 1 team for much of 2006 was from Selinsgrove, Pa., which had a population of slightly more than 5,500 when they parlayed a talented lineup into an incredible run into the state tournament, but were derailed by a Wyoming Seminary side with two future U.S. women’s national team players.

We’ve been pleased and proud to recognize the field hockey in small-town America over the years and we hope to continue this into the future.