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Archive for Field hockey

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.

Jan. 19, 2017 — The comeback begins

The last time any of us saw Katie Bam on a hockey pitch, she was trying to take space against the German defense in the final five minutes of the Olympic quarterfinal.

An untidy stick tackle left Bam, the United States’ leading scorer in the 2016 Olympics, crumpled on the Deodoro Stadium turf with a knee injury.

Bam spent the fall as an assistant coach for Harvard alongside her husband, former South African international Marvin Bam. She also did her rehabilitation about 375 miles away from Spooky Nook.

Now that the U.S. team is beginning to reconvene for training as well as play in the Pan American Cup this summer, Bam has found a coaching position close by Spooky Nook — and, as it turns out, close to her heart.

Katie Bam, this fall, will be an assistant coach with the University of Maryland. That is, when she’s not playing or training with the U.S. team at Spooky Nook, which is 110 miles away.

It’s a great fit, I think, especially with the talent that is coming onto the team for spring hockey.

Jan. 17, 2017 — Hopefully, not a trend

The world of field hockey coaching is full of experienced masters of motivation and tactics who become institutions in their respective schools or universities.

But the open question is, who is going to step in to be the next generation of Missy Mehargs, or Nancy Williamses, or Char Moretts, or Sue Butz-Stavins?

Field hockey is a difficult-enough job already without having the perception that you’re having to replace a legend. As such, Cory (Picketts) Terry did a remarkable job as head field hockey coach at Ocean City (N.J.). Taking over from the team’s founder, Trish LeFever, Terry created her own story, her own narrative. She was unafraid of taking on the very best in the sport, even coming to Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) to provide competition for visiting Louisville Sacred Heart (Ky.).

Terry won three state championships as a coach at Ocean City, and developed a team which came into every game ready to compete, no matter what the circumstances. Indeed, there was a game this year which involved two hours of travel and a cold, wet rain. But the Raiders came out on top 3-1 against a good Pennsauken Bishop Eustace (N.J.) team.

I think it would have been awesome to see what Terry would have done with the players left over on the team this fall after the graduation of the seniors. But, I guess, we’ll never know, as Terry resigned from the coaching position.