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Archive for Field hockey

BULLETIN: Jan. 23, 2020 — Unprecedented chaos

There’s supposed to be a doubleheader of field hockey action this weekend at Karen Shelton Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. as the United States is to take on World No. 1 Netherlands in the opening match weekend of the FIH Pro League for both teams.

But there have been significant, and unprecedented, developments in the last two days that have led to a change in the schedule.

First off was the Monday night announcement that U.S. assistant coach Lawrence Amar had died at the age of 48.

This morning at 10 a.m., it was announced that U.S. captain Kat Sharkey would retire altogether from the U.S. women’s national field hockey program, leaving a significant leadership and attacking void just two days before the first scheduled Pro League tilt this Friday.

Late today, there was an announcement by the FIH, the world governing body of the sport, that the Friday match would be cancelled altogether out of respect for Amar’s death. Instead, the Sunday game against Holland will count double in the standings. In other words, a regulation win would be six points, a shootout win four, and a shootout loss two.

This is the most chaotic period for an American field hockey team, I think, since April and May of 2002, when the U.S. had to play India in a three-game last-chance series in order to qualify for the FIH World Cup that year. Borne out of the terrorist events of Sept. 11, the Americans had to travel to five continents and more than 10,000 miles in order to meet up with the Eves in England.

The current U.S. players all have to be looking at each other as well as inward: who steps up for us now? Who can we rely upon?

It also is head coach Caroline Nelson-Nichols’ first test of leadership — and the players haven’t even set foot on the turf for their first game.

We’ll see Sunday how the players respond.

Jan. 22, 2020 — Lawrence Amar, 1972-2020

It was only a few days ago that Lawrence Amar was appointed to the position of manager of the U.S. men’s and women’s national sides, in addition to his duties as women’s assistant coach.

Last night, the shocking news came of Amar’s death.

He had represented the United States between 1987 and 1999, through many lean years. Indeed, his only moments in the sun came through the fact that the United States hosted the 1996 Olympics. That year, he was captain of the U.S. men’s national field hockey team.

But you probably don’t know the half of Amar’s life. You see, there was a period of his life after his hockey-playing days and the time he became an assistant coach with Kent State.

That was a six-year period during which he served in the U.S. Army, which included two tours overseas in the period of the early Desert Shield/Desert Storm military actions.

Amar eventually attained the rank of Staff Sergeant, receiving two Army Commendation and Army Achievement Medals.

His death was a sudden blow — not only to USA Field Hockey, but his wife and children.

Commendations have been written about him on social media, and deservedly so. He is already missed by so many in the American field hockey community.

Jan. 19, 2020 — A surprising start to the FIH Pro League season

While the United States won’t be making its 2020 season debut in the FIH Pro League for several days, there has already been a pair of eye-opening results on the men’s side this weekend.

India, which for years has been seen as a faded world powerhouse in men’s field hockey, came up with a pair of tremendous wins at home against the Netherlands at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar. The opener was a 5-2 regulation win, with the second a shootout win after a 3-3 draw after regulation.

India showed itself to be made of stern stuff; Holland had taken a 3-1 at the interval of the second game today, and had even a 10-minute power play because of a yellow card to captain Manpreet Singh. But India scored on a pair of penalty corners in the last nine minutes to send the game to the penalty shootout, which India won 3-1.

This result, coupled with the women’s team’s Olympic qualification, is an indicator of the degree to which the nation is applying the necessary resources to make its national teams more than just competitive.

Which could make for an interesting Olympics.

Jan. 18, 2020 — A threat to a growing field hockey area

It was 2008 when the commonwealth of Kentucky made its first real breakthrough on the national field hockey scene, when Louisville Sacred Heart (Ky.) posted a 29-0 record to be the No. 1 team in the U.S.

By 2014, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) took over governing the sport and its state championship tournament.

However, there’s going to be a vote in a few weeks which could end KHSAA sponsorship of field hockey. The justification that has been going around is that the current number of varsity field hockey teams is far short of the 50 needed to have a state tournament, according to state by-laws.

What’s happened? Frankly, lacrosse happened. A healthy rivalry has developed between teams in the Louisville area and a new group of lacrosse-playing schools in Lexington. Indeed, a Lexington-area player led the nation in scoring last spring.

But in the last five years, there has not been a parallel pattern of development in field hockey.

Given the offseason playing opportunities within the state for field hockey, I’m flummoxed that there has not been one school in greater Lexington to take up the challenge.

Now, while people have started an on-line petition to keep KHSAA as a sanctioned sport, the real work of adding teams — if not in Lexington, then around the entire commonwealth — is going to have to happen sometime soon.

Jan. 12, 2020 — Is the MIAA doubling its footprint, or halving its competitive balance?

A couple of days ago, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the commonwealth’s governing body for public school sports, released its proposal for statewide brackets for the sports it sanctions.

Gone will be the days of separate brackets for four regions, to be replaced by statewide brackets, meaning that a team from the Berkshires may have to travel to Cape Cod, and vice versa, every round, depending on how the seedings fall.

Those seedings would be determined by computer rankings by MaxPreps. The first four seeds in each division’s bracket would be seeded separately, meaning that a team with a weak regular-season schedule may not get one of the top four seeds, despite being undefeated.

But the headline-grabber for Massachusetts’ changes is the fact that, for both field hockey and girls’ lacrosse, the number of championships doubles from two to four.

Massachusetts is not the only region to have added championship levels in the last few years: the Virginia High School League, the Midwest Athletic Association, the California Interscholastic Federation’s San Diego Section, and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association have added postseason championships over the last five or so years.

Just from observation, the addition of these additional postseason tournaments has, for me, benefitted smaller schools. Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.), for example, won a state championship in 2015, and Poquoson (Va.) has made it to the state title game on more than one occasion since the changes to the VHSL tournament.

Now, I don’t have the exact enrollment numbers for the MIAA field hockey or lacrosse schools. But I have a feeling that the new championship will benefit programs in small towns all over the state such as Mashpee, Martha’s Vineyard, and Greenfield.

I also think it’s going to help teams in the western part of the state who have usually been in short brackets because there aren’t enough qualifying teams to fill out a 16-team sectional.

They’ll vote on the proposal next month; let’s see if enough administrators think it makes sense.

Jan. 11, 2020 — A clear fingerprint

Yesterday afternoon, the roster for the senior women’s U.S. national field hockey team was released for the 2020 FIH Pro League season.

As you might expect, for a nation not making the 2020 Olympics, this is very much an experimental lineup with many familiar faces such as captain Kat Sharkey, goalie Kelsey Bing, and proven scorers like Erin Matson, Margaux Paolino, and Mackenzie Allessie not on the roster.

Returning to the fold are Laura Hurff and Ali Campbell, both of whom were on the U.S. women’s indoor national team at the recent Rohrmax Cup.

But what should be incredibly exciting is the young talent on the roster. Duke’s Haley Schleicher is the only scholastic field hockey player with at least 200 goals and 200 assists. Rachel Robinson, after being a teammate with Allessie at Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.), had an amazing latter half of her junior year at Virginia as an attacking midfielder. Corinne Zanolli, out of the storied Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) program, had 33 goals this past fall for the Stanford Cardinal.

The University of Maryland’s Kelee Lepage willed Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.) to a state title her senior year in high school, and fellow Terp Madison Maguire had 130 goals in her career at Rumson-Fair Haven (N.J.). Also, James Madison’s Miranda Rigg had 47 goals her senior season for Fredericksburg James Monroe (Va.).

This is a team with head coach Caroline Nelson-Nichols’ imprint on it, and we’ll know in a couple of weeks whether this works out.

Jan. 9, 2020 — A thin lineup that could prove dangerous

We’re about two weeks out from the United States women’s national field hockey team’s opening fixtures in the FIH Hockey Pro League, which will be a two-game series with world No. 1 Netherlands at Karen Shelton Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

And with a drip, drip, drip of retirements from the U.S. national team pool in the last few weeks, including those of Jill (Witmer) Funk and Catherine Caro in the last two days, the U.S. pool is looking more and more unfamiliar to the sport’s cogniscenti.

Which, actually, may work to the Applebees’ advantage. Who, for example, has scouted Gini Bramley (two caps), Kelly Marks (one cap), and Alexandra Hammel (zero caps)?

You know who has? Head coach Caroline Nelson-Nichols and her staff.

I have a feeling that the players on the main roster are looking to prove the naysayers wrong from the last FIH Pro League cycle. It will be a hungry and determined group, with a sole focus: to prove that the U.S. team can be better than a ninth-place finish.

It’s going to have to, in order to avoid relegation.