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Archive for Field hockey

May 11, 2023 — The end of a long worldwide nightmare?

This week has seen the World Health Organization call an end to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. And with it, the U.S. government is planning for the federal public health emergency to expire at the end of the day today.

It’s appropriate, in an odd way, that the end of the declaration occurs one day before the championship final of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland’s Class “A” Tournament.

That’s because, in 2020, one of the participants in tomorrow’s grand final, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), was to have played what might have been the game of the year against Delray American Heritage (Fla.) before the world shut down.

Three years later, what have we learned from all of the maskings, the social distancing, the vaccines?

I think the world health agencies have learned a lot, but there are, I think, a lot of lessons that school districts and schools had to learn the hard way. While there seemed to be some panic when a small handful of current college athletes died from the Coronavirus, a lot of the regulations put in place were, frankly, draconian.

On more than one occasion, a single positive COVID test within a sports team resulted in the forfeiture of play for the entire team. This forced the cessation of the entire athletics program at Plymouth Wyoming Valley West (Pa.) in 2020, and it also determined the state championship in New Hampshire in Division III. In the latter situation, a single positive test within the Berlin (N.H.) team meant that the entire team would have to quarantine for 10 days, making the Concord Bishop Brady (N.H.) vs. Canaan Mascoma Valley (N.H.) semifinal the de facto final.

Now, if there was one location which seemingly breezed along within the field hockey and lacrosse universe, it was the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Teams played full schedules and had a full playoff bracket, acting as if nothing had happened.

I also remember seeing footage of the celebration from the Colorado state final in April 2021, where full student sections celebrated their teams’ successes as if nothing had happened. No masks, no social distancing. And this was about the time COVID-19 shots became widely available for limited population (DISCLAIMER: this writer received a first vaccine in March 2021 because of chemotherapy).

Today, as far as I can tell, there isn’t any scholastic competitive event which requires either a participant or a spectator to wear a mask. But that’s no reason to let down our guard as a people. There are billions of people around the world who have not received even a first COVID-19 injection. It’s estimated that the potential for a new COVID pandemic of the unvaccinated could decimate a number of developing countries, including the BRIC consortium (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

All I know is that if I’m going to be in a place with a large crowd, I’ll not only have a mask with me, I’ll also be listening to what my body tells me when it comes to symptoms.

As we all should.

May 1, 2023 — A major change at a major program at a crucial juncture

Jenn Weissbach, in her nine years as field hockey coach at Pottstown Hill School (Pa.), has brought her team from a pretty good Mid-Atlantic Prep League side to one which competed well on the national stage. Last fall, for example, the team went 19-1 and finished fourth in the TopOfTheCircle.com Top 10.

But Weissbach won’t be coaching the side in 2023 and beyond. Last week, she announced that she would be departing to become the field hockey coach and dean of students at Andover Phillips Academy (Mass.), one of the nation’s best college preparatory schools.

Phillips Andover has done pretty well for itself in the “A” Division of the New England Preparatory Schools Athletic Council since 2015, winning four championships.

A lot of the team’s success comes from head coach Kate Dolan, whose career at Andover spans some three decades.

But Weissbach is looking to write her own championship history, even as she leaves a program with four current age-group national team members and one which will be defending its PAISAA championship this fall.

That history has yet to be written.

April 27, 2023 — While the football team has privileges, women athletes have been scrambling

James Madison University has had a number of successful athletic teams on its Harrisonburg, Va. campus. The field hockey team won the NCAA championship in 1994. The women’s lacrosse team, in 2001, had the lead, the ball, and no shot clock in a quarterfinal game at Maryland — yep, the Maryland with the all-star team of Adams and Carney and Comito and Egan and Martinez. But JMU allowed the equalizer and scored a shocking own goal to provide the margin of victory for the Terrapins.

But when the school’s football team, one which won the Division 1-AA championship in 2004 and 2016, moved from the Colonial Athletic Association to the Sun Belt Conference — a Division 1-A team in the Football Bowl Subdivision — the rest of the teams representing the university have been sent scrambling.

Sure, some of them will be playing a Sun Belt schedule against the likes of Marshall, Georgia State, Old Dominion, and Coastal Carolina, but the field hockey and lacrosse teams have been looking for a conference to join.

This spring, JMU’s lacrosse teams have been playing in the American Athletic Conference, which includes the likes of Florida, Temple, Vanderbilt, and Cincinnati. The Dukes seem about ready to run the table in the AAC, boasting a 5-0 record heading into this weekend’s conference finale against East Carolina.

In the last couple of days, the JMU field hockey team signed on to play with the Mid-American Conference starting in 2024. The MAC will have nine teams — Ball State, Central Michigan, Kent State, Miami, Ohio University, Longwood, Appalachian State, Bellarmine, and James Madison.

It is an intriguing soup of teams. Indeed, I think the coaching and the reach of some of these universities into their respective states can make this into a conference strong enough to warrant an at-large bid in the NCAA Division I tournament. It’s a strong statement, given the fact that the NCAA Tournament Committee rarely gives out at-large bids outside of the ACC and Big Ten.

Let’s see what kind of teams these nine schools will wind up fielding in a couple of years.

BULLETIN: April 18, 2023 — USA 1, Argentina 1 (USA wins penalty shootout 4-1)

The dominance of Argentina in women’s field hockey in the Pan American Zone has been comprehensive, even to the point of keeping the U.S. off the top of the medal stand at the junior levels.

Indeed, the only time the United States had ever won the Women’s Pan-Am Junior Championship was in 2008, when the States didn’t even need to win to make it to the next Junior World Cup, since the States were the host. That was a team led by Katie O’Donnell and Melissa Gonzalez, and the game-winner in overtime was scored by Camille Ghandi, a player who honed her skills in her native England.

But this young and quality U.S. junior national team has a lot of players who are proven scorers. Head coach Tracy Paul was able to trot out Ryleigh Heck, Lauren Wadas, Abigail Tamer, and Regan Underwood for the shootouts, and all four did their jobs. It was too much for Argentina, who could get only one shootout attempt by Annabel Skubicz.

Argentina, the United States, and Chile (the host), and Canada (taking the last qualifying slot allotted from the moat recent JWC) now qualify for the 2023 edition, which is scheduled for the first two weeks of December.

This win is a significant one for the States, and will have American fans dreaming of perhaps a podium finish; the American junior have never finished higher than seventh at the world tournament.

April 3, 2023 — Seeing your three, raising you four

We’ve written about the fact that both Delmar (Del.) and Glenbrook (Ill.) South have three athletes playing on various iterations of U.S. women’s field hockey teams.

But a Tweet from a couple of weeks ago points out an even larger concentration of talent. It points out that Pottstown Hill School (Pa.), a team which has distinguished itself through strong interstate play and winning the 2022 PAISAA Championship, has four players on the U-16 national team headed to Valkenswaard for its annual Easter Hockey Tournament.

The four players are Abby Gerdeman, Aubrey Turner, Sofia Ferri, and the young woman who scored the last-minute goal to win the PAISAA title, Opal Sparling. It’s about as impressive as when the first U-16 select team was assembled in the early 1990s, and three members of the team were from The Hun School of Princeton (N.J.).

Want more? OK, how about Hill graduates Madison Orsi (Virginia) and Josephine Palde (Duke)? They are on the U-21 national team roster for the Pan American championships, which will be taking place later this month. Not to be outdone, Maggie Kondrath (Duke) is on the U-18 national side.

With this kind of national-side talent returning, you have got to believe that Hill is a team to keep your eye on for the 2023 fall season.

March 28, 2023 — Yet another talent concentration

It was back in the late 1990s when three members of the Moorestown (N.J.) field hockey team made the U-16 national team.

These days, we’ve already mentioned the fact that players from the small town of Delmar (Del.) are on the senior women’s national field hockey team, the U-18, and the U-16 side.

But not to be outdone, we noticed that there were three players from the Glenbrook (Ill.) South field hockey team who are on the U.S. junior national teams. Madison Beach, one of the top returning scorers in the country, made the U-18 national team.

Teammates Reese Anetsberger and Ella Beach are on the U-16 national side which will be playing next month at the Valkenswaard Easter Tournament.

Glenbrook is a village of about 33,000 in the Chicagoland area. Despite the relative size of the town in comparison to school districts elsewhere, Glenbrook (Ill.) South (where the three teammates attend school) have played co-op field hockey with the companion school in District 225, Glenbrook (Ill.) North. The combined team finished second last year in the Illinois state final to Winnetka New Trier (Ill.).

March 19, 2023 — Pernicious “bots” causing trouble

I’ve noticed something weird over the last three or four days when I try to use the Internet to search for field hockey stories.

If you go through Google News, searching for the term “field hockey,” a number of the results refer to events which have already occurred, and a bunch of unfamiliar sites have taken these stories and have redirected them to foreign websites with nothing to do with field hockey.

I tried changing my browser, and I find the same phenomenon: if you try to sort field hockey news stories by date, you get a lot of junk rather than the latest and greatest from the world of field hockey.

Oddly enough, I don’t see this happening in other sorts that I have done, such as for lacrosse. Why this is so, I have no idea.

All I know is that the marketers and hackers from all over the world have somehow targeted the game of field hockey for their nefarious schemes.

Makes you wonder what the next kind of world wide weirdness will be.

March 18, 2023 — Mourning a desperate refugee

Ten years ago, a delegation of 10 field hockey athletes who visited the D.C. metropolitan area 10 years ago, learning about soccer, rugby, and even watched a women’s tackle football game involving the D.C. Phoenix, all in the name of empowering girls and women through sport. The tour of the U.S., sponsored by the State Department, also took the players to North Carolina for a field hockey clinic.

I scanned pictures and video footage of that trip in the last few days when I heard the news about Shahidi Razi, the former captain of the Pakistan women’s field hockey team. She had ended her international career when she started a family, but her first-born son suffered a stroke, and her husband subsequently divorced her.

But late last month, a boat carrying Razi and hundreds of refugees from east and central Asia crashed off the coast of Italy. These migrants, from various locations, were seeking a better situation for their families. Razi was killed in the crash.

As far as I can tell, Razi was not in any of the publicity footage or photos of the trip. It does, however, give thought to what might have happened if she had been chosen for the trip. Would she have made different choices in her life had she been exposed to the way other women live their lives through sport?

It does make me think about the choices she was forced to make because of differences in health care systems, or social structures. How desperate Razi must have been to feel as though she could only find medical care for her son by traveling on a boat with little more than the clothes on her back.

As much as some people belittle the American health care system, it cannot be worse than what this family was facing. I shudder to think what kind of life this special-needs child now faces in Pakistan.

March 14, 2023 — Another all-time great field hockey coach retires

Linda Kreiser, who helped the U.S. women’s national team to a bronze-medal finish at the 1979 World Championships and coached Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) with distinction for more than 40 years, has announced her retirement from coaching.

She is yet another coach of veteran stature who has decided to hang up her whistle, following on the retirements of Enza Steele, Anne Parmenter, Karen Shelton, Lori Hussong, Karen Klassner, Lori Hussong, Ange Bradley, Ann Simons, Beth Arsenault, Lori Smith, Michele Martin-Moore, Sharon Coulton, Sharon Gallant, Jody Harmon, Gloria Hewitt, Pat Toner, and Becca Main from various teams in the American collegiate and scholastic scenes.

Kreiser is a person who has devoted her life to the game of field hockey. Her arc started at Millersville University, where she not only played top field hockey, but was also a fine lacrosse, basketball, and even a squash player.

She played for the U.S. women’s national team and was in the pool of players for Vonnie Gros’ side for the 1980 Olympics, but the team never got to play because of the Western boycott. Kreiser still played long after her retirement from the national team, distinguishing herself in club play with the Red Rose field hockey club.

At Lower Dauphin, she taught an unbroken blue line of athletes for 45 years. The players were skilled, mentally tough, and able to make their teammates better.

The Falcons have won seven state championships in the always-tough commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but there have been times when Lower Dauphin teams have been more memorable in falling short of state championship glory. On numerous occasions, Lower Dauphin would encounter Emmaus (Pa.) in the state semifinal round, and the teams often played games which were worthy of a grand final.

There was also a situation in the early 2000s when Lower Dauphin, sailing along with an undefeated regular season record, and playing as well or better than anyone else in the country, received the top seed in their District 3 championship, only to fall out of the tournament in the first round, thereby missing the state championship.

In 2019, Lower Dauphin fell a goal short in a penalty shootout against West Lawn Wilson (Pa.). But the Falcons got their revenge in 2022, beating Wilson in overtime of the state final.

It turns out that was the last game Kreiser coached.

She has been honored with membership in numerous athletic Halls of Fame, and with co-naming of the bandbox of a hockey stadium just north of the main high school that bears her name and that of Bea Hallman. She also carried the American flag at the most recent FIH World Masters championship and carried the Olympic torch before the Salt Lake Olympics.

One might say that she also carried the torch for the game of field hockey in a highly competitive area of the country.

And for that, I think hundreds of young women in Dauphin County and elsewhere owe her a debt of gratitude.

March 12, 2023 — A tragedy in Colorado

Last fall, Anna Burhmann arrived as a first-year student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. There, as a member of the varsity field hockey team, she started seven of the Pioneers’ games in a 2-14 season.

The Dusseldorf, Germany resident was credited for giving good energy whenever she patrolled the pitch.

But six days ago, she was on a ski trip in Colorado when she left the trail and crashed into a tree. She was rushed to a hospital where it was discovered that her spinal cord was severed and her C6 and C7 vertebrae were broken.

As with many of these kinds of personal tragedies, a GoFundMe account was set up to pay for medical care. And if you look at the donors, the breadth of support she has received has been astounding. Teams such as LaSalle University, Franklin & Marshall, Delaware, Princeton, Bryant, the Souderton Strikers club team, and Point Pleasant Boro (N.J.) have chipped in with donations and words of support.

It is times like this when the American and international field hockey communities come together as one and show strength and support. I invite you to do the same.