TRACEY LARSON THANKFUL FOR THE CHANCE TO PLAY FOR TEAM USA
By Al Mattei
Morrisville, Pa., is not the center of the field hockey universe. Far from it: the town's namesake high school had strung together so many straight losses in the late 80s to the mid 90s that the breaking of the losing streak made the evening news in Philadelphia.
For Tracey Larson, however, Morrisville is the perfect place for reflection a scant few days after receiving the unexpected news that she had made the senior women's national field hockey team.
"Once they called my name, I think everything went blank for about 20 minutes: I totally zoned out," said Larson from her home with the Morrisville address. "It was all a blur, getting fitted for uniforms and equipment and having our team picture taken. It probably won't sink in until we go to San Diego for our first training session at the end of (January 1999)."
Much of the shock she felt was on several levels. Larson had never thought of herself as being terribly important individually. She was a right midfielder in high school (at nearby Pennsbury, not at Morrisville because of where the district lines are drawn) in a formation where the center midfielder was the critical position.
At Penn State, she has been a winger, an inner, and a wing midfielder. And she was never one to take credit for her actions.
"To tell you the truth, I went there to have a good time and to improve my game," Larson said. "I really don't know how I got on the team."
When the 31 players on the national and reserve squads were named, then formed in two groups in a hotel meeting room in Piscataway, N.J., it did not escape her notice who was on the reserve squad.
"I really though Traci (Anselmo, her Penn State teammate) would make it," Larson said. "And I couldn't believe Lori Mastropietro didn't, either. I went (on Penn State's annual European trip) to see her at the World Cup."
But reality has also begun to settle in for Larson, also on several levels. The task for Team USA over the next seven months is clear-cut: a win is needed at the Pan American Games to snare an Olympic berth, save for what could be a free-for-all of an Olympic qualifier in March 2000.
In addition, she realizes that her status on the national team could change with the selection of Australian national teamer Tracey Belbin as the 1999 head coach.
"It's possible that, if there is a new coach, he or she may decide that some of the girls on the reserve team may be better," Larson said.
Larson credited interim Team USA head coach Carina Benninga for not only adjusting the camp schedule away from strict calisthenics, but for teaching "next-level" skills.
"We had Carina, a coach from England, and one from Australia, and they were showing us the little things which make their teams so good," Larson said.
A soccer player in high school (Pennsbury played girls' soccer in the spring), Larson sees the contrasts between her squad and the U.S. women's soccer team which hosts in the 1999 World Cup among much media hype.
"First off, our soccer team is the best in the world, while the field hockey team is trying to catch up to teams like The Netherlands and Australia," she said. "Here, our soccer players begin at around five years of age, and European girls play only at around 10 years of age.
"Only here can you have a Mia Hamm make the U.S. national team at the age of 15. But a 15-year-old field hockey player here will only have played for, at most, three or four years. There's no comparison."