BANTA ASSURES CAPE MAY’S OFFENSE NOT MISSING IN ACTION

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- One of the big stories of the 2001 National Futures Tournament was just how many top-level field hockey players in both the U-19 and U-16 divisions were missing from competition, whether because of injury or U-19 national team duties.

But for Cape May, the two-time defending champions in the U-19 division, there was to be an additional missing element.

Rachel Barger, the head coach for Cape May, was scheduled to play for the Metro Rush in the bronze-medal match of the United Airlines League at the same hour her troops were scheduled to play Erie for the gold medal in the U-19 division.

But the players needn’t have worried, thanks to the positive encouragement of former U-16 national team assistant coach Dot Theobold and Nancy McHale, who filled in admirably.

“We were sad about (Barger’s absence),” said Cape May forward Shaun Banta, who scored twice in a 3-1 victory. “but she said she would be with us on the walkie-talkie, and would call us on the cell phone before the game to say what she had to say.”

“I told them to go out and play the way they did all weekend,” Barger said. “Like a house afire.”

The team designed T-shirts with the phrase, “House of Fire” on them. But the malapropism seemed to fit the 95-degree temperatures as well as the team’s frenzied style of play.

There were doubts about whether Barger’s absence would affect the team. After all, in a tournament featuring more than 130 9-on-9 games of 46-minute duration, the slightest doubt or lack of confidence on the part of one or two key players can irreparably damage a team’s performance. But Barger, like past Cape May coaches Lori Vile (1999) and Corry Freeman (2000), was able to get the most out of their players, especially in pool play.

“It’s nothing to do with the coaches; it’s the athletes,” Barger said. “The athletes put it all together.”

But Theobold and McHale had to use every bit of their youth development experience to Cape May withstand Erie’s crushing first-half attack pressure. Dana Anderson, Leah Geib, and Nicole Dudek were extremely effective on the right side attack, forcing eight first-half penalty corners.

Erie, however, managed just one shot on goal, thanks to the defense in the circle led by Kelly Darling, Sarah Dawson, Heather Schnepf, and Kristen Hann.

“I thought they would be a hard team, and they played really well the first half,” Banta said. “But we were able to hold them to no goals.”

“Basically, they had to realize the same poise that they had throughout the tournament,” said Theobold, who also coached Team Princeton during the tournament. “They got their feet under them, used their brains, let the ball do the work, and spread the defense to get behind them and score. They had fun with the ball, and that’s why they ripped it wide open.”

Indeed, Cape May was able to solve the Erie defense in the second half, thanks in large part to Banta, Leslie DeSimone (who had the final goal for Cape May), and Julia Croddick, who found the necessary spaces behind a tiring Erie defense.

The victory represented the first time a U-19 region has ever won three consecutive NFT championships.

 Cape May  0  3

 3

 Erie  0  1

 1

--SCORING--

CM: Shaun Banta, FG, 38th minute.

CM: Banta, FG, 41st.

CM: Leslie DeSimone, FG, 44th.

E: Leah Geib (Nicole Dudek, FG, 45th.

--SAVES--

CM: Erin Douglas 1, Jessica Malone 1.

E: Jeanine Hoff 0, Carrie Hanshue 1.

 

In the U-16 final, the unexpected became commonplace in more ways than one. For example, one of the finalists, Dallas, had players representing Connecticut as well as the Texas-Oklahoma-Missouri region.

But Philadelphia, the other finalist in U-16, had its own unexpected twist. For much of pool play, the team’s scoring had been generated by the diminutive forward Anne Marie Janus. Her five goals, including one on a spectacular weaving run through three defenders, had onlookers comparing her to U.S. captain Tracey Fuchs.

“She has the quickness, she has the athleticism, and she’s young,” said Philadelphia coach Patricia Moratori, who attended the University of Connecticut when Fuchs was an assistant coach. “She has a lot of time to develop.”

Unexpectedly, in the final, Philadelphia found another scoring source in Leagh Rogers, whose goal in the 18th minute gave the Pennsylvania side a 1-0 win over Dallas. And Leagh was an unexpected scoring source within the Rogers family; her older sister Rory has been one of the nation’s more accomplished youth players.

But Moratori, in just her first year of coaching an NFT team, had already learned the important lesson Barger learned: let the talent decide what to do on the field and not do what is expected of you.

“You can’t have any preconceived notions,” she said. “On corners, you can make sure they have options, but you have to let them see what is going and let them make the decisions.”

 Philadelphia  1  0

 1

 Dallas  0  0

 0

--SCORING--

P: Leagh Rogers (Megan Ponessa), FG, 19th minute.

--SAVES--

P: Juliana Simon 3, Elizabeth Riley 5.

D: Andrea Baraiola 0, Holly Schurk 4.

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