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July 24, 2017 — A second high-scoring attacker makes a move

Remember this?

Today, this happened.

If you look at what has happened to the class of players who have scored 125 goals or more in scholastic field hockey, it is surprising how many different paths their lives have taken. Not all have been capped for the United States on the senior level and enjoyed an international career including an Olympic or World Cup cycle.

Some of the players have transferred universities. A couple have only played a year before leaving hockey. There are players who have never finished college, and one never entered university at all.

It kind of reminds you of that disclaimer on banking and investment commercials: “Past performance is not an indicator of future growth.”

But the fall of 2017 is going to be notable, I think, for the talent which shifted between Division I schools in the preceding summer. That’s 450 goals that have moved locations with just two players.

July 23, 2017 — A few takeaways from South Africa

NOTE: Updated with new rankings.

The United States women’s field hockey team won its semifinal tournament of the FIH World League this morning with a 3-2 shootout win over Germany. The whole competition, held over the last couple of weeks, has given supporters of American hockey a look at a completely new U.S. team, one which defends with tenacity and vigor, one which is cold-blooded in attack and hot-blooded in the challenges.

Here are a few takeaways from this tournament that you should keep in mind for the next year:

1, The tournament didn’t mean anything for world rankings … or did it? There was an unexpected bonus for the United States in winning its World League semifinal: 25 rankings points. Those allowed the States a bump up in world rankings, but only a small distance. But it’s at the end of the World League final when the lion’s share of world rankings points on offer are doled out. In other words, despite how well the States played in this tournament, it’s still possible for them to come out with eighth-place points after the WL finals, but the 25 points for winning Johannesburg would actually allow the Stars and Stripes to gain rankings points at least equal to the team placing ahead of them at the World League final, unless the States win silver, which is a 50-point gap behind the winner.

2. No matter what today’s result was, the United States would not have avoided the Group of Death in Auckland. Because of the serpentine nature of the seeding for FIH events (top seed goes in Pool A, next two seeds in Pool B, etc.), the United States is going to have a tough go because the States now have a different group of competitors in its World League Finals pool from the World League Semifinals. Here is how the pools are likely to shake out, if we read the regulations correctly. If the U.S. had lost to Germany, the States would still have been in Pool A, but at the third rung; the Danas would still have been seventh in rankings had they won:

Pool A Ladder Pool B
HOL -1 1 ENG-2
USA-4 2 ARG-3
NZL-6 3 GER-7
KOR-9 4 CHN-8

In the World League final, the States will have to play against a Netherlands team which is not only the defending World Cup champion, but the team which won the other World League semifinal in Brussels a few weeks ago.

3. Team defense. The American backline of Alyssa Manley, Julia Young, Caitlin Van Sickle, and Ali Froede have done their best imitation of their soccer sisters Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Ali Krieger. They have been phenomenal, holding the re-badged England team, your Olympic champion, to one goal and holding Germany to one goal in the final.

4. Goaltending, especially in specialty situations. Three years ago, Jackie Briggs would have told you that penalty shootouts were not her specialty. They are now; she was tremendous in holding off the Germans and English in penalty shootouts.

5. The Kid. Erin Matson is the youngest player on the senior women’s national team since the days of Katie (O’Donnell) Bam. Your Founder had a chance to chat with her a year and a half ago after a game featuring her Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.) team. I saw a young woman that afternoon who was completely unfazed and unaffected by the attention that had surrounded her since she made the senior indoor national team at the age of 11. Her shootout goal in the championship game is a testament to the confidence that she has in her skills, as well as the coaching staff’s confidence in her.

6. The Comet. The leading scorer in the World League final was none other than Jill Witmer, who has shown her ability in the attacking third at Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), the University of Maryland, and now with the senior national team.

7. The future. I wouldn’t blame U.S. coach Janneke Schopmann if she used next month’s Pan American Cup as a runout for reserve players such as Amanda DiNunzio, Alyssa Parker, and Jess Jecko. There is a points bonus for winning the Pan Am Cup, but it’s not as big a prize as winning the World League Finals or the World Cup.

July 20, 2017 — Revenge-minded USA takes penultimate step

Because of the length of time between major competitions in international field hockey, rare is the time can a team exercise a measure of revenge for a previous defeat.

The United States women, in the FIH World League semifinals in Johannesburg, are embarking on a bit of a revenge tour for what happened to them last year in Rio. Today, the States got a measure of revenge from last year’s Olympic pool play defeat at the hands of Team GB, beating the England national team 2-1 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in regulation.

The win takes the Applebees to the final of this World League semifinal tournament against Germany, the very team that knocked them out of the Olympics a year ago.

In the shootout, it was the former Connecticut star Melissa Gonzalez, the team captain, who was the difference, beating Maddie Hinch in the first and in the sixth rounds of the shootout. Sarah Haycroft answered for England, which, aside from retirements and injury, was essentially the same team that won the Rio Olympics wearing Team GB uniforms.

The English certainly played like Olympic champions for much of regulation, bottling up the midfield and pipping a goal from Hannah Martin to take the lead just after quarter-time. But the Three Lions made a key mistake late on. An obvious pushing foul five minutes from time sent Lily Owsley to the penalty bench for the balance of regulation.

On the yellow-card opportunity, Michelle Vittese, once again playing her best in the biggest games, penetrated the circle on the left wing and drove a ball that Hinch spilled into the goalmouth. Jill Witmer, the leading scorer in the tournament, had nobody between herself and the juicy rebound, and she made no mistake to level the match.

The result represented the first time the States have ever made it this far in a World League semifinal, but it’s one of the rare times that the United States has ever made it to the championship final of an FIH world-level event.

USA 0 0 0 1 – 100001 — 2
ENG 0 1 0 0 – 000010 — 1
ENG: Hannah Martin (Sophie Bray), fg, 16th minute
USA: Jill Witmer (Michelle Vittese), fg, 57th
Shootout goals- USA: Michelle Gonzalez 2; ENG: Sarah Haycroft 1
Shots- USA: 6; ENG: 2. Saves- USA: Jackie Briggs 1; ENG: Maddie Hinch 5.

 

 

July 18, 2017 — USA 1, Japan 0

POSTGAME That’s all for now; good day and good hockey

POSTGAME The United States now has a year to prepare for the World Cup in London. With this competition and the World League finals in New Zealand, this will give the U.S. coaching staff some room to test a number of young players. As good as players like players like Matson and Hoffman and Shealy are, how good will they get playing this level of high-quality opposition on a regular basis?

POSTGAME Give the American defense a huge call; this is a young team with a number of key retirements in the back, including Julia Reinprecht, Lauren Crandall, and Rachel Dawson. But the defense of Julia Young, Alyssa Manley, Caitlin Van Sickle, Ali Froede, and holding midfielder Katelyn Ginolfi in front of goalie Jackie Briggs were absolutely stellar today

POSTGAME Once again, major credit goes to Michelle Vittese, who scored an enormous goal. Also, Erin Matson and Melissa Gonzalez were all over the pitch chasing down 50-50 balls and attacking space

FULL TIME The final horn sounds! It’s all over! The United States wins 1-0 over Japan, which gives the Applebees their first-ever berth in the FIH World League finals!

59:00 One minute to go; can the States hang on?

58:00 Woods is fresh off the penalty bench and is open on the left side, but chooses to take the ball to the corner flag rather than attack the gaping goal

57:00 All hands on pumps now as the States put everyone behind the ball against Japan’s 11 outfielders

55:30 Japan attacks left baseline and feeds the ball into space, but cannot latch the extra player onto the pass

55:00 Now the umpires make Nagai change into a black shirt

54:33 Japan sends on Hazuki Nagai, an orange-shirted kicking back, in place of goalkeeper Kageyama

53:25 JPN PC Option left is sniffed out by Alyssa Manley

52:37 USA YELLOW Nicole Woods is off for five minutes for a stick tackle which seemed innocuous on replay

51:00 The United States’ Julia Young, who has quietly had a tremendous tournament, makes a key clear on a dangerous Japanese opportunity

49:00 Yuri Nagai can’t get her stick on a cross in front of goal that bounces a bit dangerously

47:49 JPN GREEN Hazuki Yuda is off for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

45:40 Japan is pushing players forward and the Americans are taking advantage, but couldn’t find a good-enough shot

45:00 The fourth quarter begins

THREE-QUARTERS TIME But the lead is just one; there is the possibility that this game could end with the lottery that is the penalty shootout

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Here’s how monumental this achievement could be: the United States have never made a World League final in its three iterations

THREE-QUARTERS TIME Michelle Vittese, the Virginia product, always seems to come up with big goals in big games, and she has done so once again for the Applebees to gain the advantage here

THREE-QUARTERS TIME With the horn, the United States leads 1-0

41:58 USA GOAL Michelle Vittese attacks the circle and banks it off Japanese defender Naho Ichitami’s stick into the goal; Japan asks for a referral and is denied; USA leads 1-0

40:10 Vittese brings the ball into the U.S. circle, feeds to Sharkey, but the former Princeton attacker can’t latch onto it

38:30 Japan with some innovative play into the circle, but Ashley Hoffman with the clear

35:45 Yuri Nagai with a shot from a deep angle, but Briggs makes the stop

34:00 Ambitious ball by Nagai finds nobody

31:55 USA GREEN Gonzalez is sent to the sideline for two minutes for playing the ball after the whistle

30:00 The second half is under way

HALFTIME Japan, despite scoring only three goals in this tournament, have confidence from their win in pool play over an England team which, for all intents and purposes, was the Team GB squad which won the gold medal in Rio

HALFTIME The United States has had possession, and lots of it. But the Americans have not created a lot of chances. The attackers are possessing the ball in the final third, but have not been cutting and completing passes in the attack

HALFTIME The horn sounds; the sides remain level 0-0

28:05 Gonzalez goes baseline and puts it off a Japanese foot off the side of the goal; no corner?

27:10 Japan has numbers forward, but fumbles the pass over the end line

25:20 Gonzalez with a diagonal to an open Witmer, but the pass is just off the mark!

19:04 JPN PC Another hi-lo to the inserter, but Briggs makes another enormous stop on Segawa!

18:52 JPN PC The hi-lo is shot from a deep angle by the inserter Maho Segawa, but Jackie Briggs makes a diving save!

18:52 JPN REFERRAL The Blossoms are asking whether there is a foot in the circle, and the replay shows there is; penalty corner to Japan

17:20 Japan’s first attack of any consequence is cut out and sent the other way by Matson; what a game she is having thus far

16:45 The United States have possession and space on the right wing, and, once again, are unable to generate a goal shot or a penalty corner

15:00 Second quarter is under way

QUARTER TIME The Americans have had possession and some circle penetration, but have not been able to manufacture a penalty corner; the Cherry Blossoms have been guarding their feet well

QUARTER TIME The horn goes off with the sides level 0-0

13:30 Vittese up the left wing but can’t get anything on the dead run

12:30 Japan with some possession in the forward third, but spills it over the end line

10:30 Michelle Vittese attacks the space at the top of the circle and almost finds Witmer with a diagonal

9:30 The United States have all the possession, but Japan is content to play nine behind the ball

7:14 JPN GREEN Nomura is off for a stick obstruction

6:30 Matson attacks the right wing and pounds a backhander which is just wide!

3:30 Looks like it is Shihori Oikawa who is marking up the States’ Jill Witmer; this will be a critical matchup

1:20 Erin Matson, the high-schooler, clouts a backhander which is saved by Megumi Kageyama’s blocker

0:00 The game is on

PREGAME The United States is in its traditional red kits with white, blue, and gold trim; Japan is in the royal blue with white cherry blossoms stenciled on the front

PREGAME Compare that to the other World League semifinal in Brussels, when 42 penalty corners were converted in 33 games

PREGAME Japan has only scored three goals as a team this entire competition; indeed, as a group, there is an odd dynamic when it comes to the method of scoring. In 20 games, only 14 penalty corners have been scored

PREGAME The Americans are led by Jill Witmer, who leads this World League semifinal with four goals. Also look for the energy of Melissa Gonzalez and the power of Michelle Vittese, who seems to play her best in big games

PREGAME The United States last met Japan a year ago in Olympic pool play, with the States coming out ahead 6-1

PREGAME The loser of this game has to fight through the consolation bracket for placings. The States would get to the World Cup regardless with a fifth-place finish, but any lower than that would have the Americans having to depend on either winning month’s Pan American Cup or hoping that already-qualified teams in the top 10 win their continental competitions

PREGAME I’ve used the term “tipping point” as a metaphor for a game which sees great rewards over and above winning the game, versus losing the game. This is very much a tipping-point match today, as the winner of this game not only goes on to the Final Four of this competition, but qualifies for the World League Final later this year as well as the FIH Women’s World Cup next year

PREGAME This is easily the highest-stakes field hockey match the United States has played in about seven years

PREGAME Japan, the third-place team in Pool A, is 2-1-1 in the tournament; the United States took second in Pool B with a 2-2 record

PREGAME Hello, and welcome to Wits University in Johannesburg for this FIH World League Semifinal match between Japan and the United States

BULLETIN: Argentina 4, USA 0

Given the number of players who retired from the U.S. women’s national field hockey team since Rio last year, it was expected that the learning curve of international hockey from some very young players thrown into the side would be very steep, especially against the defending World League champions, Argentina.

Today’s 4-0 win by Argentina shows just how far the young Americans have to go in order to remain competitive within the Pan American Hockey Federation, much less the world stage.

The United States started slow and seemed to be content to let Argentina have the ball, completely opposite of the “first tackle, first foul, first shot, first goal” ethic of the past decade. The States had exactly one shot on goal all game.

The results after Matchday Four of the World League has confirmed the fates of a number of teams. In Pool A, Poland will not advance to the quarterfinals, having lost all four of its matches. Pool A positioning is incredibly fluid, with Japan, Ireland, Germany, and England all capable of finishing in multiple different permutations after Sunday’s final day of pool play.

In Pool B, Argentina and the United States have both qualified for the quarterfinal round. Argentina needs a win or draw against India to take the top spot and to confirm the United States as second in the pool. India would have to beat Argentina and the States would have to lose to South Africa for the USA to finish third in Pool B.

Here’s why this is important: the pool crossover round next Tuesday is a double “tipping point” match; winning a quarterfinal not only gets you into the World League final later this year, but also qualifies a team directly into next year’s FIH World Cup.

At the end of today, here’s how the pools match up:

Pool A Rank Pool B
JPN 1 ARG
ENG 2 USA
IRL 3 IND
GER 4 CHI

The thing to remember here is that the four Pool A teams are within three points of each other, and, theoretically, could finish just about in any of several permutations.

But the most advantageous scenario for the Applebees is this: if Japan beats Germany and if England beats or ties Ireland, the United States will cross over against Ireland, the 15th-ranked team in the world and lowest-ranked in Pool A.

Alternatively, if Germany beats Japan by three goals or more and if the England-Ireland match does not result in a draw, then the States will take on 11th-ranked Japan, a team the USA beat 6-1 in the Olympics a year ago.

Otherwise, the Americans could wind up playing the Olympic champions (England, which filled out the entirety of Team GB’s roster) or a German side ranked seventh in the world.

July 13, 2017 — One rung short

As we mentioned a couple of days ago, there have been groups of American women have been playing field hockey and lacrosse at an international level this summer. But one group has something very deep and personal in common.

For 2017 is the 20th edition of the Maccabiah Games, the international multi-sport festival for Jewish athletes. The Games are held in Israel, and have a number of Olympic events as well as non-Olympic events such as cricket, chess, and rugby union.

The United States field hockey team, playing in a four-team pool with host Israel, Holland, and Argentina, finished second in the pool. In the crossover round, the Statesconfirmed that status with a 2-0 loss to Argentina in the gold-medal match. Argentina got goals from Natali Kornblau and Sabrina Giaconi in the win.

The team ranged from senior-level players to collegians to Yael Yonah, who only last month graduated from Princeton Junction West Windsor-Plainsboro South (N.J.). The group pulled together in only a few months and came through with one of its highest finishes at any Maccabiah World Games.

It’s an effort to be commended.

 

BULLETIN: July 11, 2017 — An all-time scholastic great has a new address

Austyn Cuneo, the relentless attacking forward who laid waste to the American scholastic scoring chart as part of the Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) field hockey dynasty between 2011 and 2014, has transferred from the University of North Carolina to Rutgers University after a pair of injury-plagued seasons.

Cuneo, who has suffered knee ailments the last couple of years, will retain three seasons of eligibility as a redshirt sophomore.

“We are thrilled to have Austyn as a member of the Rutgers field hockey team,” head coach Meredith (Long) Civico said in a university release. “Having coached her through the USA Futures program when she was still a student-athlete at Eastern High School, I know the potential Austyn has and what she can contribute to our team here at Rutgers. I see her as someone who will fit well into the group and impact the program the moment she steps on campus.”

The move may give the Scarlet Knights their most potent offensive threat since the days of Andschana Mendes, who helped Rutgers to an upset win over then-No. 1 Maryland in a 1998 regular-season game.

Cuneo owns several National Federation records, including goals scored in a season, career, and in consecutive matches. She also hld the unofficial records for most goals in a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior season. She never lost a game in high school, and rejoins scholastic teammates Jade Dixon, Nikki Santore, and Alanna Gollotto on the banks of the Raritan.

Cuneo has also been part of the U.S. developmental system, leading the U.S. in scoring at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games qualifier.