AT NATIONAL FUTURES TOURNAMENT, PENNSYLVANIA SHOWS POWER

By Al Mattei
Founder, Top Of The Circle.com

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- If Melanie Brill was getting a little frustrated, she wasn't showing it.

Brill, the corner striker for West Chester in the U-19 final of the 2005 National Futures Tournament, was finding posts and pads with her laser blasts in the first half and in the first few minutes of the second. But, as with any good outside shooter, she just kept right on shooting.

"We just figured we'd get something in," Brill said. "There was no point where we gave up and figured we weren't going to score."

And seven minutes into the second half, Brill and West Chester received their just reward. Her off-speed flip on the team's sixth corner of the game found the cage and gave the Pennsylvanians a 1-0 win over Team Phoenix in the final held at the Olympic Training Center at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex.

On the play, Elizabeth Drazdowski crossed in front of the Phoenix 'keeper, momentarily distracting her. There was an audible 'clack' in front of the goal cage, but Drazdowski did not claim the goal.

"I got excited, but I didn't touch it," Drazdowski scored. "Whoever was in on our rotation, and whoever wanted to strike it, did."

The result continued a dominating streak by teams out of Region 5 (Pennsylvania) in recent NFTs. Pennsylvania teams took gold medals in all three divisions. It also confirmed the place of Emmaus (Pa.) as a national field hockey hotbed. Ten athletes from the middle and senior high schools located in the Allentown suburb won gold medals over the week's play.

It must be said, however, that Team Phoenix truly rose from the ashes of pool play. Phoenix was a mixed team of players from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, and Missouri. And after the team finished 1-2 in pool play, only to advance to the top half of medal-round play through goal differential, head coach Lauren Weiner used that as a motivational ploy.

"I told them that we got lucky, and we needed to prove that we deserved that we belonged in that top bracket," Weiner said. "They improved so much, and I'm proud of them."

And, while pretournament favorites Kutztown and Cape May fell out of gold-medal contention in the single-elimination phase of the National Futures Tournament, Phoenix soldiered on, using goalkeeping, speed and passing to advance.

"Every game, we got better," Weiner said. "With all of us being from a different region, that was an issue in the beginning."

West Chester 0 1

1

Phoenix 0 0

0

--SCORING--

WC: Melanie Brill (PC), 27th minute.

--SAVES--

WC: Brianna O'Donnell 0, Elissa Unger 1.

P: Lindsay Quintilliani 2, Lauren DeCerbo 1.

____________________________________________

The U-14 tournament featured a meeting of two peripatetic coaches with very successful and divergent resumes which collided at Landstown Road.

For Matt Soto, success as a coach at the National Futures Tournament is a given. He has coached teams at more than one level to the final match the four previous years, winning three.

But after the 2003 scholastic season, his autumn coaching job at Middleburg (Pa.) was subsumed when his school merged with West Snyder (Pa.). But he showed his ability to make young players believe they could succeed as his USA East team rolled to a 4-0 win in the U-14 final against USA South.

"He told us that we couldn't be ball hogs during the tournament, and to not make it a showcase for yourself," said USA East's Tara Puffenberger, who had a pair of goals in the final. "He told us that you have to pass more and play better as a team."

The team play showed especially on corner attack, where the East players executed extremely well. A four-way pass play in the second half, leading to the first of Madison Blyler's two goals, may have been the best-conceived corner in the short history of the U-14 Futures Tournament. Considering the short practice time afforded the teams at the Sportsplex, that's saying something.

"In our practice," Puffenberger said, "we only worked on corners for about 10 minutes."

Evidently, however, it was enough, and Marina DiGiacomo could only admire the effort from the other bench. Her USA South side could not match East's execution and relentlessness.

DiGiacomo, the NCAA's all-time leading point scorer and bronze-medal winner from the Athens Olympics, could have chosen any country in which to coach or play, from Australia to Spain to Holland to her native Argentina. Yet, she chose to toil in relative anonymity in the United States.

"I love the environment in the U.S. and the way things work here," DiGiacomo said. "There is great potential, there is infrastructure, it's open to women -- which is always nice, but I wish it would be more open for men, too, because having a mix is good."

The medalist had a job lined up coaching at Old Dominion University for 2005, but her job during the NFT entailed trying to meld players from New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina into one unit -- a task which proved difficult in the end.

"There were some kids that were very impressive, and there is the potential," DiGiacomo said. "What I would love to do is catch them now, and not wait until four years from now, when they get to college, to start teaching them things."

USA East 2 2

4

USA South 0 0

0

--SCORING--

E: Tara Puffenberger (FG), 8th minute.

E: Puffenberger (Kelsey Kolojechick) (PC) 18th.

E: Madison Blyler (Ali McEvoy, Kelsey Lloyd) (PC) 21st.

E: Blyler (FG) 25th.

--SAVES--

E: Ann Marie Kline 0, Kelsey Boyce 0.

S: Leann Stiver 6, Kelsey Moll 3.

____________________________________________

The U-16 tournament saw Stroudsburg try to get by a Syracuse that had used the goaltending tandem of Amanda Heyde and Katie Lynch to blaze its way to the final.

But Stroudsburg, representing a Pennsylvania region that had won or shared the last five U-16 titles, was more than equal to the task. The Keystone side seized on Syracuse's lone defensive mistake and buried the chance, as Alyssa Thren's breathtaking steal and score in the first half was the difference in a 1-0 win.

"I was ready to jump on (the pass)," said Thren. "This was a great experience, playing with all these players you hear about."

"When Syracuse was playing Scranton yesterday," said Stroudsburg head coach Clarence Jennelle. "they jumped on Scranton right away. I told them we had to get on them right away, otherwise we'd be in trouble. Syracuse was putting on the pressure, boxing us into a corner, but we were still getting the ball up the field."

Stroudsburg had many chances in the contest, which was played much later in the day than usual because of a tornado warning that knocked out some classification games at the Olympic Training Center. But Lynch was magnificent, making several spectacular saves. Lynch plays her high-school hockey for Briarcliff (N.Y.) Manor, which, like Team Syracuse, is coached by Kelly Adams. Adams also works with Heide.

"I work with her for the Empire State Games," says Heyde, who attends Somers Yorktown Heights (N.Y.), which is, oddly enough, Briarcliff Manor's main league rival.

"It's great to know what you're doing wrong and what you're doing right," says Lynch. "It's also great to have that support on the bench."

Syracuse also got great two-way play from midfielder Emily Cummings, who served as corner flyer on defense and corner striker on offense.

"They played outstanding together," Adams said. "Emily would play any position I asked her to, and she was outstanding out there."

Stroudsburg 1 0

1

Syracuse 0 0

0

--SCORING--

Str: Alyssa Thren (FG) 13th minute.

--SAVES--

Str: Devon Burnley 1, Erin Conrad 1.

Syr: Amanda Heyde 1, Katie Lynch 5.

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