YOUTH MOVEMENT FOR TEAM USA STIFLED IN PAN-AM PICKS
By Al Mattei
The selections for the 1999 United States women's national field hockey team were supposed to foreshadow a long-awaited youth movement. Three members of the U-20 national team -- Amy Herz (University of Connecticut), Jessica Coleman (University of Virginia), and Courtney Sommer (Duke University) had received spots on the preliminary roster which had been assembled in late December 1998.
But when the Pan American Games roster came out a scant five months later, these three who were to represent the vanguard of American field hockey into the new millenium were not on the roster.
Indeed, the team that head coach Tracey Belbin picked to go to the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba in search of an Olympic qualifying berth contains many of the same players from the U.S. team that finished a lowly eighth at the 1998 World Cup.
The question for this team, and American field hockey fans is, can the Stars and Stripes do any better this time around?
It is possible: there are a couple of new faces on the team. Their skills might give Team USA a chance against the likes of Argentina, the team it needs to beat in order to snare a 2000 Olympic qualifying berth.
The new faces include Old Dominion attacker/midfielder Mimi Smith, whose efforts to make the national team the past several years had gone unrewarded until now. In addition, the University of Maryland's Carla Tagliente has moved from the reserve roster to the final group of 18.
Beyond that, however, the roster of the U.S. national team reads like the old familiar refrain: Team USA all-time leading capper Tracey Fuchs, the solid attacker Kelli James, the amazing defensive midfielder Antoinette Lucas, and Atlanta Olympic veterans Kris Fillat, Katie Kauffman, Jill Reeve, and Cindy Werley.
To be sure, this group has done well in recent Test matches, playing evenly (one win, one loss, two draws) with 1992 Olympic champion Spain and winning Canada's four-nations tournament with a 2-0 win over host Canada in the finals
While there are some good results to be had, there are questions to be asked. Certainly, the big one is whether the United States has shown it can beat the likes of Argentina, the multiple Pan Am Games champions.
But questions remain from the choices made for the Pan-Am roster. One: by not selecting Coleman, Herz, and Sommer, does this represent the last chance of the "old guard" to get the Olympic qualifying berth before the spring 2000 qualification tournament in Milton Keynes?
Second, has it been made clear to the veterans that a much younger team will be selected at the 1999 "A" camp if the United States does not win the Pan American Games tournament?
Third, has Belbin been able to get the US Field Hockey Association's bureaucracy to buy into the Australian Way of field hockey? Early on in training matches, Team USA struggled on the attack, and was not able to score in the run of play against Canada in a series of home matches, though the Tests with Spain and the four-nations win at Vancouver are certainly encouraging.
Fourth, given the Australia Hockeyroos' successes in major international competitions -- including the 1999 Champions' Trophy -- did the USFHA give Belbin a free hand to select the members of Team USA, or were the selections made for her instead?
Finally, the question which might have been asked after the USA's eighth-place finish in the World Cup: wouldn't it be prudent to send a younger team to the Pan American Games in order to figure out who to send to the 2000 Olympic qualifier in Milton Keynes?
The rationale: while the United States must win the Pan American games to win one of the 10 Olympic berths, it does not need to win Milton Keynes to get in: it could finish as low as third place. Too, the level of American play is such that even a much younger U.S. team will likely finish second to Argentina in the Pan Am Games, but will gain the valuable experience necessary to compete hard at the Olympic qualifier.
You certainly have to credit the USFHA for trying to put on the field the kind of team it feels is necessary to bring home an Olympic berth now, rather than having to enter the Milton Keynes free-for-all in order to punch its ticket to Sydney.
But the talents of this veteran American team may not be enough to win the Pan Am Games as well as the automatic Olympic berth. If the U.S. does not win at Winnipeg, will a valuable opportunity to develop talent in an international setting go unrealized?
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