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July 9, 2017 — The U.S. team keeps it simple in win over Chile

Field hockey is a simple stick-and-ball game upon which technological advances such as composite sticks, artificial competition surfaces, and metrics have been imposed.

And yet, the U.S. women’s field hockey team debuted in the FIH World League Semifinals with a 1-0 win over Chile, thanks to the most elementary play from the Constance Applebee playbook.

In the 35th minute, Michelle Vittese, again playing big in a critical contest, penetrated the circle on the right wing, exploiting her defenders’ weak side. She then fed the ball to an open Jill Witmer in the goalmouth. Her putaway caught Chilean goalkeeper Claudia Schuler back in her goal cage.

The States, having more than half of its roster turn over from last year’s Olympics, have had to resort to relatively simple plays and penalty corners, with the retirements of dragflickers Lauren Crandall and Rachel Dawson. The U.S. could have had more than its goal but for Kat Sharkey’s struck penalty corner that drew the post.

Meanwhile, the U.S. defense held thanks to goalkeeper Jackie Briggs, who made a number of key saves in the second half. But the States were aided most in the final minute by the video umpiring crew. In the final 70 seconds of play, Russian referee Elena Ezkina called a pair of U.S. feet in the circle, either of which could have yielded a Chilean penalty corner to level the match. Both of the calls, however, were overturned by New Zealander Kelly Hudson in the video booth.

For the Americans, yesterday’s FIH World League Semifinal is the beginning of a complicated process. But the simplest scenario for qualification to the 2018 World Cup is this; if the Americans are able to win their quarterfinal match on July 18th — no matter who they play –, they will automatically qualify for the World Cup, because the top 10 teams finishing in the two World League semifinals will move through, along with the five continental winners and host England.

The Americans are in a five-team pool along with Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and India. In the other pool are Germany,  Japan, Ireland, Poland, and England, making almost any quarterfinal permutation a difficult proposition.

If the U.S. fails to win, it could still qualify automatically with two more wins in the consolation bracket. The qualifiers from this tournament will join Holland, China, Korea, New Zealand, and Australia at the World Cup next year.

If the States do not qualify, the Pan American Cup at Spooky Nook next month becomes critical, although the U.S. could also get into the World Cup if enough already-qualified World League teams also win their continental tournaments.

July 6, 2017 — An appreciation: Michelle Kasold, forward, United States

One in an occasional series.

Michelle Kasold was not above comparing herself against international competition. The same woman who retired today after more than 220 appearances for the U.S. field hockey team had competed against players from other shores for longer than most in her peer group.

Indeed, she was a senior in high school when she played for East Chapel Hill (N.C.) at the 2004 Sun Devil Invitational, a 16-team invitational at the National Training Center in Virginia Beach.

East, in the final, played against St. Mary’s School of Johannesburg, South Africa. St. Mary’s, a team with three future national-team players, played smooth and efficient hockey in a 2-0 victory.

Kasold, however, was the happiest when the trophy presentation occurred after the final. “We’re the second-best team in the world!” she proclaimed.

Her international career began the next year with her participation in the Junior World Cup, then with callups to the senior women’s national team pool.

For a decade, she helped the U.S. program improve through her athleticism and her intelligent use of space. She even took time, during the Clash in the Capital series in 2010, to attend a friendly between Ajax and D.C. United to study how the Dutch club team treated the ball and moved it in the attack end.

The lessons, evidently, served her well. She appeared in two Olympics, played on the Pan American Game-winning sides of 2011 and 2015, and was part of the team which won the U.S. team’s first major trophy in its history when it won the FIH Champions Challenge in 2014.

Kasold’s retirement comes at a difficult time for the U.S. program. The FIH World League semifinals are but two days away. We’re also one month from the Pan American Cup. And Kasold’s departure is just one which has made over the American roster from just one year ago in Rio. Only about half of last year’s roster that went over to Rio is in this year’s cohort, which is trying to win its way into the 2018 FIH World Cup.

And without the cerebral Kasold, the job got just a bit tougher.

June 30, 2017 — Keep reading

Hi, all.

Just a note that, despite the fact that we’re posting our usual July essay from an actual field hockey player on her journey to college, we’re continuing our daily blog posts below that letter. In July, we’re having our national post-season lacrosse posts, a look at the National Club Championships in field hockey, and the World League semifinals for the U.S. women’s national field hockey team.

June 29, 2017 — In U-19 final, defense beats offense and vice-versa

The night before the championship final of the 2017 U-19 National Futures Tournament, it was pretty much a given that the two Region 5 teams representing Pennsylvania — Albertville and Torino — would be meeting each other at high noon at Spooky Nook.

They didn’t disappoint. In one of the most competitive and gripping NFT finals in some 20 years, it was Torino who survived to win a 3-2 shootout victory after the sides tied 3-3 after regulation.

The winning margin came in the fourth round of a penalty shootout after the sides were level 2-2. In the fourth round, Albertville’s shot was tackled and cleared by Torino’s Katie Jean, the state-championship-winning goalkeeper for Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.). Torino was able to lift its final shot past Albertville’s prone goalkeeper for the winning shot.

The shootout was leveled at 2-2 only after a crafty piece of play on the part of Meredith Sholder, the second all-time leading scorer in Federation history. She managed to sneak her goal underneath Jean, with the ball rolling slowly over the goal line, barely beating the eight-second clock.

The teams had traded goals throughout regulation, and Albertville thought it might have the game won when Sholder convered a stroke 5 1/2 minutes from time. But Torino earned a stroke in the final two minutes, which it converted to tie it at 3.

June 26, 2017 — U-14 Futures: Squaw Valley beats the heat, Grenoble

The way the schedule fell for the medal round for the U-14 National Futures Tournament, the finalists had to earn their medals.

Squaw Valley was required to finish off Pool N play at the outdoor pitch at Spooky Nook, then had to wait an hour as Pool A first-place team Grenoble beat cellar-dwellers Antwerp for the top of the pool, also at the outdoor pitch.

And minutes after that game, the final began at high noon under the bright skies of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Rare has been the time that a semifinal and a final were played back-to-back in Futures play.

In the final, Squaw Valley beat Grenoble 3-2. Squaw Valley, like the other teams in the U-14 Division, did not have a cluster or concentration of players from any single Futures region. It is notable, however, that Squaw Valley boasts U-17 indoor national team Ryleigh Heck, whose older sister Kara was one of the nation’s leading goal-scorers last year for Voorhees Eastern (N.J.).

June 24, 2017 — U-16 NFT: Atlanta chalks up a dominating gold medal

Picking the winner of the 2017 U-16 National Futures Tournament was a matter of looking at the rosters.

On Team Atlanta, you had Lauren Wadas from PIAA Class AAA runner-up Palmyra (Pa.), Madison Orobono from PIAA winner Emmaus (Pa.), Sophia Gladieux and Sophie Mackrella from PIAA Class A runner-up Oley (Pa.) Valley, and Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) sophomore Mackenzie Allessie, she of the 76 goals scored last season for the state Class AA champs.

The results were predictable.

The loaded Atlantans not only won the gold medal in the tournament, they waylaid opponents doing it. They won all five matches by a combined score of 33-2, ultimately winning the gold medal over Cortina d’Ampezzo 4-1. As it turns out, the Cortina team also represented Pennsylvania, and had players such as Emma Deberdine of Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), Kayla Kisthardt of Emmaus (Pa.), Adele Iacobucci of Malvern Villa Maria (Pa.), and Sarah Beers of Oley (Pa.) Valley.

June 23, 2017 — From early commitment to early matriculation

There have been plenty of stories about the excesses of college sports, where coaches have gotten verbal commitments from middle-schoolers in the revenue sports.

More recently, the controversy was about how non-revenue athletic programs, such as those found in field hockey and lacrosse, were seeking verbal commitments from ninth and 10th-graders. And it even got to the point where a verbal commitment from a seventh-grader got the NCAA lacrosse coaches to write regulations preventing that from happening again.

In field hockey, there have been plenty of pressures felt by players as young as ninth grade to make a commitment. And it’s gotten to the point where high-school seniors have begun to gray-shirt (or green-shirt, depending on the terminology) onto college teams as students who finish their high-school curriculum a semester early.

Because of spring field hockey, it is thought that bringing in second-semester seniors would help in their overall development not only as an athlete, but as a student.

Chantae Miller, who was a six-year varsity player with Williamsville (N.Y.) North last decade, was persuaded to join the Michigan State team six months early. There have been others, including prominent youth national teamers such as Mayv Clune, who left Bethlehem Moravian Academy (Pa.) just weeks after leading them to a state title and joined up with the University of Maryland.

But more recently, there have been players who have taken an even greater leap. At least two Division I players have, or are in the process of, skipping their senior years of playing field hockey to join up with a college program a year before schedule.

It’s happened at Princeton University, where Elise Wong finished up her high-school credits at Lake Forest (Ill.) and by the fall of 2015, was starting for the Tigers before she could earn a learner’s permit in some states.

This past week, goalie Emma Likly of Wilton (Conn.) graduated from high school a year early so that she could attend Syracuse University.

“It was definitely a difficult decision because I wasn’t thinking about going to college next fall,” Likly tells The Hour. “But I already was so excited to go there and I just know that it’s such a great program, it’s such a great school, so I thought, ‘Why not get a head start on it?’ ”

But given the talent identification and development apparatus for USA Field Hockey now targeting younger players such as Erin Matson for senior duty, having colleges coming in and getting early matriculations of high-school players is a different matter altogether.

You see, in many athletic competitions, having an extra year’s maturity is seen as a plus. Preparatory schools in the northeast U.S. give football and basketball players a chance to get one or two years more size and speed before entering college a year or two later than their peers.

Yet, at least in the case of Wong and Likly, it’s the polar opposite.

Asking young people’s bodies to adjust to situations more suited to the mature athlete is a risk. Just ask legions of burnt-out and injured gymnasts, soccer players, and figure skaters. I’ll be interested to see if this trend works out for all concerned.