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Archive for Field hockey

June 13, 2018 — Trying to find support

It’s only a handful of weeks until the FIH Women’s World Cup is played in London, and a problem has shown itself as the U.S. women’s national team has been playing a series of five Tests in Tucuman, Argentina against their Pan American rivals, the Leonas of Argentina.

In the first two Tests, the United States have scored exactly two goals. That they have both been scored Erin Matson, the team’s sensational wunderkind who gave up her final two years of scholastic hockey, is notable because of her skill on the ball and her placid demeanor under pressure.

And herein lies a problem. With the retirements of so many scorers from past teams, such as Kelsey Kolojejchick and Katie Bam, the question remains as to where the States are going to get the rest of their goals from.

Of course, you can also say that about an Argentina side which has seen the retirement of all-time great Luciana Aymar, but retains the services of all-time leading scorer Noel Barrionuevo as a penalty-corner specialist.

Of course, six weeks is an eternity when it comes to team development and bonding. Let’s see what this team can do in the critical final third.

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May 31, 2018 — An appreciation: Cathy Keiser, head coach, Selinsgrove (Pa.)

One in an occasional series.

It has been a successful, albeit star-crossed, third of a century for a group of young women who have played field hockey along the banks of the Susquehanna River in a town of Selinsgrove, Pa., population 5,383.

For the past 34 years, Cathy Keiser has poked, prodded, and willed her teams to an outsized influence on the game of field hockey nationwide. She announced her retirement from coaching the Seals just this week as one of only a handful of scholastic coaches with more than 600 victories.

She was instrumental in the development of former U.S. international Keli Smith, who was part of perhaps the greatest front line in the history of the NCAA alongside fellow U.S. national teamers Carla Tagliente and Dina Rizzo.

Keiser also coached a Seals team that held the No. 1 ranking in the TopOfTheCircle.com Top 10 for almost the entire 2006 season. It was a brilliant team that only fell in the state semifinal round to a Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) team with two future U.S. national teamers — Kelsey Kolojejchick and Kat Sharkey — in its lineup.

Three years later, Selinsgrove made another run at the state title, making it all the way to the Class AA championship game against a good Lehighton (Pa.) side coached by former U.S. men’s national teamer Shawn Hindy. The Seals had their chances, but the game went into extra time goalless. The game came down to a breakaway in the seventh minute of overtime, when it was ruled that the Selinsgrove goalkeeper took the ball and the player on a breakaway opportunity. The ensuing penalty stroke gave Lehighton the win and denied Keiser her first PIAA state championship.

Throughout the years, the Seals played good hockey and scheduled many of the best teams in Pennsylvania for friendlies as well as regular-season matches. Oddly enough, last fall, Selinsgrove began its regular season and ended its playoff run against the same school: Plymouth Wyoming Valley West (Pa.), a side which won the silver medal in Class AA.

Up until Keiser’s last game, Selinsgrove competed fearlessly against the very best the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had to offer.

It will take, I believe, an uncommon and outsized personality to take over from Keiser, such is the imprint she has made in the community and in all of Snyder County. She will be missed.

 

BULLETIN: May 29, 2018 — Vindication in Pennsylvania

Earlier this month, we wrote this.

Last week, however, came word from Lehigh University, and confirmed by reporting by several news organizations, that Caitlin (Williams) Dallmayer was cleared from all allegations of wrongdoing as the university’s head coach.

The indication came in a five-paragraph letter from Joe Sterrett, the university’s Dean of Athletics, a copy of which was was viewed by TopOfTheCircle.com. It reads, in part:

“…[t]he review found no indication that a culture of physical or mental abuse exists within the [f]ield [h]ockey program. There was a general sense that Coach Caitlin Dallmayer, who has headed up the program for the past two years, has implemented significant changes to turn around a program with a long history of poor performance and losing records. This transition has resulted in feeings of stress associated with higher levels of intensity, but has netted some early indicators that the team is moving in the right direction. End-of-season administrative reports and student-athlete and team evaluations affirmed this positive progress, while acknowledging areas for improvement.”

To me, that’s a clear endorsement for the direction the program is taking.

May 10, 2018 — A singular scholastic coach makes a transition

Daan Polders, one of only a couple of scholastic field hockey coaches to win state championships in more than one state, and perhaps the only one to do so in consecutive seasons, was named the head coach of the United States U-17 women’s national team.

It’s a singificant, if rare, move by a scholastic coach into the world of the U.S. high-performance system. But Polders has spent time in the U.S. collegiate system, having coached with Michigan State and Wake Forest in the 2000s.

Polders found a rich seam of form with Denver Colorado Academy (Colo.) in 2012 and 2013, winning the CHSAA state title, then moving over to Malvern Villa Maria (Pa.) to win the 2013 PIAA Class AA title. He would further lead Villa to the 2017 Class AA state championship.

Polders will be assisted by former U.S. national-teamer Katie (O’Donnell) Bam and William and Mary associate head coach Mark Egner.

May 9, 2018 — The Third Law, under test again

The TopOfTheCircle.com Third Law of Field Hockey holds that sports have distinct roles which, if violated, constitute an imbalance in the order; The roles are simple:

Players play. Coaches coach. Officials officiate. Spectators spectate. Administrators administer.

I’ve never liked it when players or parents meddle in the affairs of coaches, no matter what level. Beginning way back in the late 1990s when the lacrosse team at the University of Pennsylvania refused to play for their then-head coach, I’ve been critical of such actions. Mind you, if that strike had never happened, Karin Brower would never have been hired and would not have taken Penn to three Final Fours.

Indeed, when you have players making complaints to administrators at either a college or a secondary school, it provides an opportunity to get rid of a coach that they may not like. Just look at Gary Barta and his henchmen at the University of Iowa, who engineered the firings of head field hockey coach Tracey Greisbaum and women’s athletics administrator Jane Meyer. It was an action which resulted in money damages paid out by the university as compensation for an illegal firing.

The latest test of the Third Law is taking place at Lehigh University. It was announced earlier this week that outside investigators were being brought in to investigate allegations about the program, including head coach Caitlin (Williams) Dallmeyer, the former Duke and U.S. U-21 star.

The allegations were brought to the attention of Lehigh University president John Simon as well as the offices of the Patriot League, of which Lehigh Unversity is a member. According to the Allentown Morning Call, a four-year-old firm called The Pictor Group, run by a pair of former athletic administrators, is being brought in to conduct a review of the field hockey program.

The nature of the review and what is being investigated have not yet been disclosed, but if it’s anything like some of the other forced coach removals in the last few years — such as Louisville women’s lacrosse coach Kellie Young and Somers (N.Y.) field hockey coach Marq Mellor — it could very well be that a vocal minority winds up forcing out a coach or coaches.

That puts players in the position of supplanting their head coach.

And that’s wrong.

The thing is, with collegiate student-athletes aiming to unionize or leverage their collective being in order to effect changes, such as drawing a stipend or playing with guaranteed irrevocable scholarships, this trend is going to keep growing.

And that would be worse than wrong.

May 3, 2018 — The FIH’s Olympic qualification has a twist borrowed from soccer

For the most part, over the last 30 years, the road to qualifying for the Olympics has been relatively simple for half the field. The host nation, subject to certain standards, gets to participate depending on certain standards. It was a qualification standard that kept Greece out of the 2004 Olympics and Brazil out of the last tournament.

In addition, the five continental champions get to participate. Once again, however, that is subject to certain standards. Criteria set forth by the South African Olympic Committee kept their hockey players out of Rio 2016, despite winning the African qualifier.

The other half of the Olympic field has been filled out in various ways. In past years, it has been done solely on world ranking. Then, a last-chance “repechage” qualifier was instituted — a single 10- to 12-team tournament that required a team to finish in the top places in order to make the Olympics.

In 2008, the FIH instituted a system where three six-nation tournaments filled out the last three Olympic berths. That’s the way the United States made the Beijing Olympics, through winning the Kazan qualifier.

The last two Olympic cycles, however, the non-continental qualifiers came from World League semifinal placings, as the FIH took the semifinalists with the highest ranking that had not won their continental championship.

But for Tokyo 2020, the Olympic qualifying scheme will take on a bit of a World League sensibility, progressing into a tournament resembling the 2008 qualifiers, but with a finish that is mostly familiar with soccer fans.

What’s going to happen is that the teams not participating in the Hockey Pro Series of 2019 are going to be participating in regional tournaments to qualify for three eight-team tournaments in May and June of 2019, just when the Hockey Pro Series will be concluding.

The champion and runner-up of each tournament will enter the final round of Olympic qualifying, where the top four nations from the Hockey Pro League not already continental champions, plus the top two in world rankings also not already continental champions, will form a pool of 12 teams. However, if Japan was to win the Asian Games in either gender, the pool for the final round will be 14 teams.

The teams are then seeded via world ranking and drawn against each other in a random process, The tournament is going to be a series of two-legged ties all over the globe, with the team with the most total goals at the end of two games going to the Olympics.

But unlike the UEFA Champions League, the Liga MX liguilla, or certain other soccer playoff series, the Olympic qualifying series is not a home-and-away series where an away-goals tiebreaker may come into play. Instead, both games are played at the higher-seeded country.

Now, given the expansiveness of the Hockey Pro League, with all participating countries being allowed to play equal numbers of home and road matches, I think this is the only flaw in FIH’s Olympic qualification system.

Let them play a true two-legged series. And let’s have the away-goals tiebreaker while we’re at it.

May 2, 2018 — Two greats, one well-deserved honor

Today, New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) announced its six-member Hall of Fame induction class for 2018.

Two of the greatest players in their respective sports were amongst the six selected for this year: field hockey’s Tracey Fuchs and soccer’s Abby Wambach.

Tracey Fuchs, a product of Centereach (N.Y.), was one of the all-time great scorers in American field hockey, beginning with her time playing for the legendary Nancy Cole, who Fuchs follows into the Hall after her 2004 induction. Fuchs, playing on grass fields with wooden sticks, scored 82 goals in one season and 171 for her career, marks which would not be approached en masse for three decades.

Fuchs took her talents to UConn, winning a national title and All-America honors. She played for the U.S. national team, helping the Applebees qualify for the 1988 Olympics and helped guide the Americans to a bronze medal at the 1994 FIH World Cup.

But perhaps her finest moment came in 2002, when she helped cap off a 10,000 mile journey in search of the last FIH World Cup bid by scoring a second-half brace to beat India in the third of a three-match series in Birmingham, England.

Wambach, for her part, led Rochester Our Lady of Mercy (N.Y.) to three Section V titles in soccer, then, her freshman year, helped power Florida to the national championship. Similarly, in her rookie season as a professional, she helped will the Washington Freedom to the 2003 WUSA championship. Her header was the last golden goal in a FIFA-sanctioned league match, and it was the last game ever in the league, which folded a month later.

Wambach, however, kept on playing for the U.S. women’s national team, scoring a world record 184 goals for the Hammers. She helped power the United States to gold medals in three consecutive Olympics, scoring an overtime winner at Athens 2004. She would cap off her career with a cameo in the 2015 World Cup, coming on long after Carly Lloyd’s 16-minute hat trick put the matter to bed early.

The six-member Hall of Fame class will be inducted this summer.