AT NATIONAL FUTURES TOURNAMENT, PENNSYLVANIA TAKES TOP HONORS -- TWICE
By Al Mattei
Founder, Top Of The Circle.com
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Matt Soto had just one problem coming into his job of coaching Team Stroudsburg in the U-16 division of the National Futures Tournament: making sure that his four junior national teamers -- Mallory Weisen, Anne Marie Janus, Allison Tanner and Shayna McGeehan -- got enough touches in the right spots.
This especially was the case on corners, so much so that Soto didn't even hide the corner: his precise verbal commands could easily have been intercepted by the opposition, but the front line -- especially Weisen and Janus -- were so especially adept at execution, opposing corner defenses could do little.
So when the Stroudsburg corner attack unit lined up in the final minutes of the first half of the gold medal game against Troy, Janus knew what to do when she couldn't work free of Troy's trailer: she sent it laterally back to Weisen's backhand side.
"It was a chip, kind of," said Weisen, soon to be a junior at Middleburg (Pa.). "Usually, if I had a clear shot, I took it, and if not, Anne Marie would take it. But she got it back to me."
The spectacular reverse-stick goal held up for a 1-0 Stroudsburg win over a very adept Troy team in the U-16 NFT final held for the first time at the Olympic Training Center at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex.
There were numerous changes in the event for 2002. Whereas in past years, the games were 9-v-9 on narrow pitches carved out of a giant patch of artificial turf, all contests were 11-on-11 matches held at the OTC's water-based fields. The games were played, as usual, under FIH rules, except for the shortened matches (44 minutes, down from 46 in previous years) which were even further shortened for the water breaks necessitated by the 100-degree heat.
Too, the pool play was different. Teams in the four pools of the U-16 and U-19 age groups had just three games to determine their fate in the main classification draw, rather than playing six or seven games to create a definitive pecking order in their half of the tournament. And once knockout play began, a pool winner getting off to a bad start could find itself tumbling to the seventh-place game in a hurry.
"There are so many good kids here, and great players, anyone can beat anybody," Soto said. "You can come from that No. 2 (pool) spot and make it all the way through."
For Troy and head coach Scotty Tyson, the silver medal was a product of hard work as well as the format change. Fortune had smiled on Troy in the knockout round, as the team had to win two penalty-stroke shootouts in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds just to get to the championship game.
The team, comprised of Virginia Beach area players, several New York participants, and one from North Carolina, was the best of numerous mixed teams in the 2002 tournament.
"What was real cool was that there was also a whole team from Virginia and a whole team from New York supporting us," Tyson said. "They were playing together, as if they were actually from one region. It was really great to see."
S: Mallory Weisen (Anne Marie Janus) (PC), 9th minute.
S: Kara Copeland 5, Ellen Axelsen 3.
T: Erin Zeigler 1, Jessica Lamina 0.
The U-19 championship saw another team bitten by the format change: Team Cape May, after having won three straight championships, fell short of the title match after losing a stroke-off with Detroit in the semifinals.
Detroit again faced a stroke-off situation against Lancaster in the championship final. But opposing them was Lancaster's goalkeeper Erin Prediger, who has an unconventional attitude towards the tiebreaker.
"I absolutely hate them. I despise them," she said with a nervous giggle after Lancaster won a 3-1 stroke shootout after a 2-2 draw. "I would rather not have to do them. Ever. I feel comfortable doing it; I was just prefer not to."
Odd, since the Boston University-bound Prediger stopped one stroke and withstood two errant attempts in the final after winning another penalty-stroke shootout in the quarterfinal round.
The result signified two significant firsts: Detroit, a team made of players ranging from Kentucky up through the Ohio Valley, made its first appearance in the championship game.
On the other hand, the Lancaster win was the first time any team from talent-rich Pennsylvania had ever won the U-19 NFT.
The state, which has had as many as 11 players on the U.S. women's national team at any one time, has had as many as three full teams in NFT competition.
But the region has had an extraordinarily tough time breaking through to the championship; excellent teams from Erie fell just short in 1998 and 2000, for example.
"With that many teams," said Lancaster head coach Sue Finnie, "we spread our strength, and we sometimes knock each other out. Each of these teams (State College finished fifth, Scranton seventh) had three (scholastic) All-Americans, and when you get to this level, they are all very talented. It's the teams that can play well together, and we had an awesome flow. We were clicking."
That was certainly the case, as this senior-laden group got regulation-time goals from Dana Anderson and Kristina Edmonds.
Prediger did not make a save in her second-half stint in goal because Lancaster dominated the second term, racking up an amazing 14 penalty corners in the 44 minutes of play as compared to Detroit's two.
Detroit did have a chance to win late, but a 3-on-1 break was stymied by an unfortunate touch off an attacking foot.
For head coach Glen Tellis, the reward was just getting the team to the final. Tellis is the junior varsity coach at Pittsburgh Allderdice (Pa.), a school located in a traditionally underserved portion of the state when it comes to field hockey. Coaching against a team from Pennsylvania was a challenge he relished.
"Our match philosophy was to believe in themselves, and to let them make their own decisions," said Tellis, a native of Bombay, India. "The 11 players out there are in charge, and nothing can change that. They all play all positions. Their work spoke for themselves."
D: Marnie Pickering (Abby Taylor, Elizabeth Miller) (PC), 11th minute.
L: Dana Anderson (FG), 19th.
D: Eleanor Martin (PS), 20th.
L: Kristina Edmonds (PC), 23rd.
L: Nicole Dudek, Kirsten Bostrom, Brooke Miller.
L: Juliana Simon 2, Erin Prediger 0.
E: Tory Krauss 4, Jacqueline DiMarco 4.