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Archive for Field hockey

Feb. 21, 2017 — A different-looking medals table

Last weekend, the National Indoor Tournament for under-16 field hockey teams was held at Spooky Nook.

Only this year, the results don’t look quite the same as in past years. There were times when the WC Eagles club side would win a dozen or so of the six-team pools in the competition. This year, the Eagles club only won two. The Eagles Blue team, led by Palmyra (Pa.) defensive midfielder Lauren Wadas, won Pool D by holding all opposition to just two goals. Meanwhile, the Eagles Red team won Pool F.

The Eagles could have a third pool title, but a Diamonds team including Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) freshman sensation Kara Heck and Emmaus (Pa.) sophomore Madison Orobono lost Pool A on goal differential by a single goal over the XCalibur Knights as final pool matches took place on Sunday. The Diamonds, having to play against an Alley Cats team featuring Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) wunderkind Mackenzie Allessie, managed to win 12-6 to post a +42 goal difference, but the Knights got a +43 in the fifth and final pool match by winning its match 13-2 over Northeast Elite Gold.

XCalibur club side, having entered seven teams in pool play, won four pools, including the A pool and the B pool. The Knights won A led by Oley (Pa.) Valley star Sophia Gladieux, and the XCalibur Freedom team boasted another Oley (Pa.) Valley luminary, Sophia Mackrella. In addition, XCalibur Lancers won Pool O and XCalibur Titans won Pool V.

Amongst the pool winners were several good stories. Shore Byrds Purple, the winners of Pool I, featured a number of players from the state championship-winning Delmar (Del.) side. The home team, Spooky Nook, took a pair of titles as Nook Hockey won Pool C and Nook Green won Pool M.

Feb. 16, 2017 — A day for the men

After a lot of radio silence from One Olympic Plaza as to the makeup and shape of the U.S. men’s field hockey development apparatus, came a rapid-fire series of news alerts today, as members of three national teams were made known.

With fewer than six weeks until World League Round 2 in Trinidad & Tobago, the United States has picked a group of 18 players, some with a lot of experience playing in foreign leagues. But then there’s high-school senior Keeling Pilaro.

Pilaro, a senior at Alexandria Episcopal (Va.), has not played a varsity field hockey game in four years. He was on varsity for Southampton (N.Y.) as a middle-schooler, leading the Mariners to a state title match.

But then, gender politics rose their ugly heads and Pilaro was not allowed to play on the team anymore. Pilaro, instead, moved to Virginia, where he has practiced with the varsity at Episcopal and has played in local adult leagues around the District of Columbia.

Pilaro was not only named to the senior roster, but was also named to the U-19 national roster. Both the U-16s and U-19s have a lot of work ahead of them, including the Cal Cup, a June tour of Europe, and a pair of Test series later in the year.

But for the U.S. men’s national team, the World League is the penultimate hurdle towards qualification for the FIH men’s World Cup. The States need to finish in the top two in this eight-team tournament, or hope they are the the second highest-ranked bronze-medal team in order to go through to the two 10-team World League semifinal tournaments, which will then cut down to 16 for the 2018 FIH World Cup.

For the U.S., ranked 29th in the world, it will be tough sledding.

Feb. 15, 2017 — A new direction?

Today, it was announced that there were to be changes in the leadership in USA Field Hockey’s Board of Directors. Cycling off the head of the board are former U.S. Olympian Shannon Taylor as vice-chair and former U.S. men’s national teamer Shawn Hindy, who was the chair.

Coming in are Bree Gillespie as chair and Susan Nottingham as vice-chair. The two were originally elected to the Board in 2014, and each have business backgrounds. Gillespie was a production development consultant as well as the coach of the Lanco Premier field hockey club, while Nottingham is an investment consultant and financial planner.

Given the sponsorship and development ideals outlined by FIH last fall, I think this is a solid move by USA Field Hockey. The Board is going to be charged with the task of running the Pan American Cup this summer as well as putting together a successful bid to be one of the women’s national sides in the new international home-and-away series of Tests.

These responsibilities, I think, are going to make the Board take a more businesslike approach in how the sport is marketed. And hopefully, that will be a nationwide effort.

Feb. 2, 2017 — The opposing force

One side effect of having dominant dynasties in any sport — football, field hockey, lacrosse — is that you forget that there are sometimes other great performers on teams that face them.

It’s hard to remember, as good as Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) has been in field hockey over the last 18 years, that there are up to seven state champions crowned every year in the Garden State. Four are public-school champs crowned by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), there is one NJSIAA Non-Public state titlist, and there are up to two preparatory-school champions to be won through competition sanctioned by the New Jersey Independent Schools Athletic Association (NJISAA).

And on many of these teams, there have been some amazing players who have trained hard, run many miles, and have accelerated their levels of play through offseason hockey.

One such player was Emily Wold, who played on a pair of NJSIAA Group III championship sides and distinguished herself by cobbling together a 50-goal season in 2011 and finishing with 81 assists, which is amongst the greatest career totals of all time.

And in an era where so much attention was paid to a new generation of youth players such as Maria Elena Bolles, Austyn Cuneo, Erin Matson, and Meredith Sholder, it was Wold who broke through at the age of 19 to make the senior women’s national side. At the international level, she was a five-tool player, excellent in all phases of the game.

Yet, just over 50 caps into her national career, Wold called it quits this week.

For me, this is the most stunning of the retirements coming out of the Olympics. Wold, for me, was the player who could very well have been the key string-puller in the midfield for a decade or more had she decided to. The ball seemed to find her in good places in the center of the pitch, and, more often than not, good things seemed to happen when she got her stick on the ball.

The regrettable thing is, we’ll never know how good she and the cohort of well-trained, athletic players coming after would have been on the world stage. She’ll be missed.

Jan. 31, 2017 — An unprecedented double

Late last week, Susan Butz-Stavin, the Emmaus (Pa.) coaching legend who has won more field hockey games than any other scholastic coach, won the 2016 National High School Coaches’ Association (NHSCA) Coach of the Year.

It is actually the second time that she has won the award, having taken it in 2006. But this past year’s honor was a particularly satisfying one.

Butz-Stavin has always had a knack for coaching her teams through the slalom of the postseason. But that’s because the Hornets have won the last 28 PIAA District 11 championships.

Emmaus won the last two PIAA Class AAA state championships under the weight of enormous expectations as well as the disappointment of a 4-0 loss to Palmyra (Pa.) in November 2014 in the state semifinals.

Emmaus got its revenge against Palmyra not once, but twice in the next two state finals. After a thrill-a-minute overtime game in 2015, Emmaus and Palmyra met again this past November, and the Hornets improved by four goals.

What I think has typified the Emmaus program over the years is not just the preparation, not just the execution, but the absolute dedication to being the best around. It is a team culture that has brought entire families into the game, such as the Jennings triplets, the Werley sisters, and the Grim-Wootsick-Sholder clan.

And all of that comes from its coach.


Jan. 25, 2016 — After a quarter-century in waiting

There have been a number of high-school field hockey coaches who have spent decades — willingly — as an assistant without even having the beginning of an idea of succeeding the boss and becoming head coach.

Names like former U.S. national teamer Diane Angstadt, who has patrolled the sidelines at Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) for some three decades, come to mind. Same with Kim Barbacci at Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) and Holly Becker at The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School.

But occasionally, long-time assistants find success moving up a space closer to the scorer’s table. A decade ago, Ann Beckley of Mifflinburg (Pa.) had taken over after 13 years of coaching at the JV level, and won a state championship.

This fall, a similar situation might occur at Factoryville Lackawanna Trail (Pa.). After 25 years of being an assistant at Trail, Gary Wilmet is taking over for veteran coach Sandy Spott.

Wilmet has a lot to live up to, since Spott had two losing seasons in 37 years of coaching. That’s saying a lot in an area which includes Wyoming Seminary, Dallas (Pa.), Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.), Lehman Lake-Lehman (Pa.), and Plymouth Wyoming Valley West (Pa.).

Jan. 23, 2017 — A simple solution to a quadrennial problem

In the last few months, the world of sports has seen several world championships at the youth level. In early December, the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup took place. In late December and early January, the IIHF World Junior Championships were held in Canada. And in Chile, the FIH Junior World Cup was held.

In field hockey and lacrosse, age-group World Cups are held only every four years, meaning that there are a number of 17-year-olds (in field hockey) and 15-year-olds (in lacrosse) who completely miss out on the competition because of the accident of birth.

Of course, given the immense exposure afforded athletes at the junior levels in ice hockey and soccer, it’s a given that the organizers made their respective World Cups much more frequent. The World Junior Hockey Championships have been an annual event since 1977.

Because field hockey has only one junior field hockey World Cup every four years, this has led to announcements such as today’s by USA Field Hockey. Periodically, the United States has maintained a pool of players to train on their own or alongside the senior national side.

On the face of it, having a U-23, or “reserve,” or “developmental” team seems like a good idea. Many professional soccer clubs around the world maintain reserve teams, some of which play in lower divisions, but some of which play in a parallel competition alongside their reserve counterparts from other pro clubs in their country.

Unlike soccer, however, there are not many opportunities for U-23 or reserve national field hockey teams to meet regularly in timed, scored, and umpired games.

If I were in charge of FIL or FIH, I think a top opportunity for growth and exposure of the sport is having the primary age-group World Cup (U-19 for lacrosse, U-21 for field hockey) a biennial event.