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Archive for Field hockey

Jan. 25, 2021 — Why you should be paying rapt attention to what is going on at the Pan American Cup

The North American qualifying competition for the 2022 FIH World Cups for both men and women are taking place in Santiago, Chile.

And with the end of pool play, we’re seeing something that we’ve never seen before. The United States men’s and women’s national field hockey teams now stand one win away from qualification after winning their respective pools.

It’s a remarkable turnaround from what happened during the last cycle when the Pan American Cup was held at Spooky Nook. Then, the United States women finished third and took the last possible berth, while the U.S. men were also third, but only two teams qualified from this hemisphere.

Four years has changed a lot within the U.S. system. The U.S. women’s national team pretty much turned over its entire roster after losing the two-game, total-goal series against India in late 2019, failing to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Too, the WNT left the Home of Hockey in Pennsylvania to go to Charlotte, a move based on the promise of growth in the infrastructure of sports science in the region as well as growth in the sport in the Tar Heel State.

Meanwhile the U.S. men have remained largely in California. But on the men’s side, there seems to be a high quality of imported players who have declared for the United States, as well as veteran men’s players who have paid their dues in a sport which may have rejected their services here at home.

So, here’s the deal. The U.S. women only need to win one of their next two games to get to the World Cup. The first test comes Wednesday with a game against Chile. Five years ago at the Nook, Chile had beaten the U.S. by a score of 4-3. This was the game that Amanda Magadan had tied with two minutes left to play, only to surrender a goal by Denise Krimerman in the dying seconds.

The men, however, must beat the winner of tomorrow’s Chile-Mexico game to make the men’s World Cup, a competition for which the U.S. has never qualified. Indeed, over the last century, the U.S. has never won its way into an FIH world-level tournament; it has instead made it to tournaments like the 1956 Olympics and the 2011 Champions Challenge II on world ranking or as host (Los Angeles 1932 and 1984 and Atlanta 1996).

It’s heady and unexpected stuff for a sport which has been forever in the Olympic hinterlands. Perhaps this is the start of something great.

Jan. 21, 2022 — A crossroads for FIH World Cup qualification

This afternoon in Santiago, Chile, the U.S. women’s national field hockey team will play its first consequential game since Nov. 2, 2019 as the team takes on Canada in a second-round pool match at the Pan American Cup.

It’s only the second of three pool games, but this one is of utmost importance because of goal differential and getting the best possible matchup for the quarterfinal round.

Right now, the U.S. and Canada both have three points for winning their first-round games. Both also have ridiculous goal-differentials, as the States beat Trinidad & Tobago 16-0 and the Wolfpack beat Peru 14-0.

The object for the U.S. team is to try to win its pool. That way, it is likely to avoid a crossover match against Argentina (the top-ranked team in this tournament) as well as having to meet the third-place team in the other pool, which could be either Uruguay or Chile. Most importantly, all they have to do is win one crossover match to qualify for the 2022 FIH Women’s World Cup.

Mind you, Canada is a side which has put together quite the run of form in recent years. They were just a hair away from qualifying for the 2020 Olympics, have had success against the States in recent years, and has seven players with 100 caps or more.

The United States team’s most experienced player, by comparison, is captain Amanda Magadan, with 89. Indeed, the U.S. team has 11 players with 10 caps or fewer. Many of these, however, are a golden generation of youth players with unlimited potential. Ashley Sessa, a high-school senior, chopped in a backhand golazo from a deep angle against Trinidad. Hope Rose had four goals, Beth Yeager a hat trick, and Maddie Zimmer a brace.

Of course, the U.S. has the inspirational figure in Erin Matson, who had a hat trick.

Today’s game should be fun to watch.

Jan. 20, 2022 — Incisive questions in a new book by a field hockey alumna

Kendra James is an author and the founder of Shondaland.com, and, as such, has been throwing a lot of light on the worlds of elite schools and their privilege, long before the Operation Varsity Blues bribery scandal and the retracted story by Ruth Shalit Barrett in The Atlantic regarding the lengths parents will go to in order to showcase their athletically-oriented children.

Later this year, she’s going to be releasing a book called Admissions: A Memoir of Surving Boarding School.

Elle Magazine has an excerpt of it regarding James’ time on the Thirds team (a level of sport mostly found in New England preparatory schools which exists to encourage participation) at Watertown Taft (Conn.). The excerpt is, to be sure, uncomfortable reading, but I encourage each and every one of you to look at it and put yourself in the place of James when you feel her being micro-aggressed.

And I hope that, if you’re a gatekeeper — coach, administrator, director — that is, someone who makes decisions as to who participates in a sport, you take James’ words to heart. The person you give a chance to in terms of game-play may turn out to be your best player.

Jan. 19, 2022 — Is Zimbabwe making little to no progress in diversifying women’s hockey?

This week, Zimbabwe, the nation which won the first gold medal in women’s field hockey at the 1980 Olympics, finds itself in a bit of a social-network pickle.

Zimbabwe, if you recall, used to be one of the apartheid states in the southern cone of Africa, to the point where it was named Rhodesia, named for Cecil Rhodes, the leader of the British South Africa Company, a corporation originally chartered to capitalize on the expected mineral wealth underground and bring it back to Britain.

Leading into this week’s Africa Cup of Nations in Accra, Ghana, social media in Zimbabwe has decried the lack of minority representation within the team, with blame being placed squarely at the feet of sports minister Kirsty Coventry. There are three Black players on the Zimbabwe side, but the social media talk is about others who did not make the team.

Given the racial makeup of the country even after the institution of Black majority rule in the late 1970s, that’s fair. However, some of the media reports on this story had said that there were no Black players on the team, which is not true.

Still, it’s interesting to note how many other nations with high minority populations don’t have as many as one dark-skinned player on their field hockey national sides.

Jan. 17, 2022 — The inconvenient truth

Today, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, I must put forth an observation that I have made time and again. That is, the fact that diversity and inclusion in both field hockey and lacrosse in the United States is not where it should be.

Racial and ethnic minorities have had substantial roadblocks for decades, which is understandable when you look at the initial development of the sport in the early 20th Century. Field hockey began at Harvard and spread throughout Eastern colleges before getting a foothold at public schools in southern New Jersey. Girls’ lacrosse began in Baltimore and remained very much an Eastern sport amongst American colleges before an enormous push westward in the 1990s and 2000s.

Lacrosse has had its heroes for both the indigenous and African-American communities, but mainly on the men’s side. Players like Jim Brown, Kyle Harrison, and Lyle Thompson have been emulated and lionized by many young boys and men throughout the years.

There have been minority women, such as Tina Sloan-Green, Cherie Greer, and Gina Oliver, who have been role models to young women in America. But for such a burgeoning sport, I’m distressed that the elite player pool, then as now, remains overwhelmingly white.

Thing is, having a more diverse group of players is good for the sport. If you watched Delmar (Del.), the Wildcats have a freshman right wing named Laela Brown, who just happens to have brown skin. Same with Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), whose most important goal of the 2021 season didn’t come off the stick of leading scorer Ryleigh Heck, but the shorthanded goal scored by Olivia White, whose skin just happens to be brown.

Perhaps other schools can work to have more diverse lineups and a culture which doesn’t say to prospective minority players, “This isn’t for you.”

It would be a great day when this happens.

Jan. 15, 2022 — The amassing of a girls’ lacrosse empire

Yesterday, Inside Lacrosse released an enterprise story which everyone needs to read.

The story is about the growth of 3Step Sports, which is a collection of a number of enterprises, including HoganLax, Robinson Sports, Aloha Sports Events, and a number of other youth lacrosse properties.

3Step has its hand in a number of other sports, including volleyball, basketball, football, and field hockey.

It’s a good read, well-recommended.

Jan. 14, 2022 — Another sudden departure, but one equally as awkward

The world’s most high-profile women’s field hockey coaching job is now open.

Alyson Annan, the former Hockeyroo who coached The Netherlands to championships in the FIH Pro League, the Olympics, and the World Cup, has left her post this week shortly after reports of a negative environment within the team has hit the news media.

To be specific, there were reports that there was unrest within the Oranje at Tokyo 2021, and the Royal Dutch Hockey Association underwent a three-month inquest into Annan’s coaching style. A Nov. 1 meeting involving some 30 members of the Holland national team pool showed a great division between players who responded to Annan’s no-nonsense coaching style and those who saw her techniques as psycholigically damaging.

After several interviews with the players, the association appointed an external supervisor with the aim of improving the culture within the team, which has had as a direct consequence the dismissal of the coach.

The official reason given in the Dutch press is that Annan and the Dutch Hockey Association had different opinions as how to move forward after the association’s finding.

This, friends, is a team which is used to winning on the world stage. Not only does the Dutch hold all three current major FIH team titles, Holland has failed exactly once to medal in an FIH world-level event since their failure to qualify for the 1995 Champions Trophy. Under a succession of coaches such as Tom Van’t Hoek, Marc Lammers, Herman Cruis, Max Caldas, and Sjoerd Marijne, the Orange Wave exhibited superior skills and tactics which have flummoxed many a team.

It’s interesting that this departure is taking place at about the same time Annan’s home national team, Australia, has been facing a reckoning about psychological abuse that has led to the sacking of most of the entire field hockey governing apparatus for the national side.

Now, if the year 2021 is to be known in the world of sport for anything aside from the Coronavirus, it is going to be remembered for women athletes aiming to take back control of their sport, especially when it comes to how the players in team sports are coached. So many coaches in the last year have lost their jobs because of allegations of bullying, abuse, or failure to create a collective winning culture.

The reckoning, it seems, is continuing.

Jan. 11, 2022 — The geography of growth

If you’ve been reading this website for the last 23 years, one of the comparisons I always make is the march of territorial progress of field hockey and lacrosse in the American sporting landscape.

In the mid-1990s when this site got started, there were only six teams in the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament, and about a thousand varsity girls’ teams in American high schools. Today, there are 29 teams in the Division I bracket, and roughly 3,000 schools, public and private, participating in the sport, a 50 percent larger footprint than scholastic field hockey.

So, I found it interesting that World Lacrosse (formerly the Federation of International Lacrosse) yesterday decided to reassign hosting duties for the next men’s World Cup from British Columbia to San Diego.

San Diego — heck, California in general — has become a tremendous incubator of lacrosse talent in recent years. Carondelet (Calif.) has been one of the finest teams in the nation, and the leading scholastic scorer in America for a couple of seasons, Charlie Rudy, prepped at Novato (Calif.) before taking her talents to the University of Colorado.

Still, it’s amazing to see what’s happening when it comes to creating growth in lacrosse in the decade of the 2020s. The choice of San Diego for the men’s world championship in 2023 gives World Lacrosse an instant viewing platform for the sport to the International Olympic Committee a scant five years before the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

In addition, however, the people who are running lacrosse are badly outflanking the forces of field hockey, which have announced a handful of youth clinics in California, but have seen the number of scholastic and collegiate varsity teams stagnate in the runup to the Olympics.

Of course, it must be noted that the San Diego announcement is for the men’s lacrosse tournament next year. The women are still scheduled for a world-level tournament in and around Towson, Md. this summer.

Which of course begs the question: if Covid does not subside by the summertime, might we see a merged men’s and women’s event in San Diego in 2023?

It would be an interesting choice were that to happen.

BULLETIN: Jan. 10, 2022 — The FIH Indoor World Cup, cancelled

The latest collateral damage emanating from the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus is that next month’s Indoor World Cup, scheduled for Liege, Belgium, has been cancelled.

This Indoor World Cup’s cancellation has to be a downer for North American field hockey fans because the American men and women had qualified for both competitions. The women qualified on the strong offensive showing of Hope Rose and Ashley Sessa and the defense of Ali Campbell and Rayne Wright. The men qualified as the silver medalists because New Zealand and Australia withdrew.

Indeed, it might have been an interesting competition had the American sides been allowed to compete, especially the women’s side. I think the Americans could have pulled an upset or two, given the devil-may-care playing style on the attack end, and the pitch generalship on defense.

The problem for the organizers is that the tournament was heading into one of the worst per-capita countries for Covid-19 in the world. Belgium’s per-million average for positive tests is slightly more than 191,000, which is worse than the United States. More than 28,000 Belgians have died during the pandemic.

“Considering all indoor hockey athletes and fans, it was extremely hard to cancel the 2022 edition planned in just a few weeks,” said FIH president Thierry Weil. “But, of course, we have followed the recommendations of the local authorities.”

At the same time, FIH has rescheduled the 2021 Junior World Cup in South Africa to take place in April. This comes at an interesting time for members of the U.S. team, many of whom will be taking place in collegiate spring hockey during the tournament window.

Jan. 9, 2022 — A worthy winner

I didn’t want to let too much time go by before mentioning the fact that last week, Jill Bolton was named the winner of the Honda Award for field hockey. Bolton, a senior at Liberty University, helped the Flames all the way to the NCAA Division I final before bowing to Northwestern.

With the win, she broke a two-year hold on the award by U.S. national teamer Erin Matson, and a three-year hold on the award by the University of North Carolina (Ashley Hoffman had won the award in 2018).

Bolton prepped at Landsdale Christopher Dock (Pa.), one of only a handful of Mennonite schools in the U.S. which have field hockey as a varsity sport. Dock also graduated Jesse Gey, who made the 2008 Olympic team and earned 99 caps with Team USA.

Jill Bolton was a player who you couldn’t take your eyes off of either as a player or as a spectator. You never knew what kind of brilliance she could conjure up through her stick or through her quickness. She scored a number of important goals throughout the 2021 postseason, but she came up with a lot of subtle plays which either took away opposing possessions or created penalty corner chances.

Her graduation leaves a void in Lynchburg that will be hard to replace, especially given how she helped lift Liberty into the national spotlight in 2021.