By Al Mattei

The 2004 U.S.-Canada Challenge was not just an event that allowed 48 National Futures Tournament participants to redon their Warrior sleeveless uniforms for a weekend.

Instead, it served numerous purposes, not the least of which was a chance for the U.S. Field Hockey Association to run a six-team tournament similar to the six-nation Champions Challenge, which was to come to Virginia Beach in the summer of 2005.

But for many of the young women who were invited to play against three select provincial teams from British Columbia, it was a chance to see and understand how other nations played the game.

What the 48 players and six coaches saw was eye-opening.

"I noticed that the Canadians were a little more patient with their defense and weren't as aggressive as we were," said Lauren Pfeiffer of Mount Laurel, N.J. and the gold-medal winning USA Blue team.

"Our teams transferred the ball a lot, and had contain defense," said Lauren Walls of Berlin, N.J. and the USA Red team. "The Canadians would crash a lot, but they were really good."

"Quite a few of their players had a high skill level that you don't usually see in players that age in the United States," said Caitlin McCurdy of Mountain Top, Pa. and USA White. "The kind of skill you see in younger players in other countries."

"If you were to watch them just playing," said Amie Survilla of Mountain Top, Pa. and USA Blue, "you'd think they were Americans. But a little choppy, kind of like an ice hockey player."

Throughout the four days of competition, there was a bit more of an edge whenever a British Columbia team and a U.S. team met; the teams played a round-robin schedule with three crossover matches on the final day in a team tennis format, with the team from each country with the best round-robin record facing each other, the second-best team from each nation would meet, and so forth.

"Playing the Canadians was always a big deal; we had to beat them," Pfieffer says. "But in the American games, we knew each other, so it was definitely fun, but we wanted to beat the other team."

"I went to Holland with the U-16s in April (2004), so I got to play against other countries," says Survilla. "The great thing is that you don't know what to expect, although the Dutch were really good, so I didn't know what to expect from the Canadians."

"Playing with Amie was awesome; we know how we work together, and we used that to our advantage," said Elizabeth Drazdowski, who also played for USA Blue as well as the varsity team at Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.). "It was a great competition, getting international experience

The three select American teams had little time to prepare as a unit for the tournament; about a day.

"We meshed fairly well; we only lost matches to the other American teams," McCurdy said. "With these tournaments, it's kind of like the luck of the draw with how different players at different skill levels can impact each other through communication with each other. I feel that really makes a difference between the teams when you meet everybody the first day."

The players were able to apply lessons learned from the National Futures Tournament held earlier in the month, the Futures Development International Camp (FDIC) the week before the NFT, and a summer residency program for the U-21 and U-19 national teams.

"There's always new little things that you pick up from other players, and you try to use them on your own," Pfieffer says.

"I played defense in this tournament, and I usually play offense," says Walls, a leading attacker for the Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) high school team that extended its Federation-record unbeaten streak into 2004. "And I like playing with the Pennsylvania kids; they are very, very good. It's great playing with good players."