By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- After the 420 best young field hockey players in America played 131 nine-a-side games in sometimes oppressive heat and humidity at the University of Maryland, the players who shone in the National Futures Tournament finals were the ones who were the least comfortable -- the goalkeepers.

Long after Lauren McDonnell had made five first-half saves in Cape May's 1-0 win over Amherst in the U-19 championship, the American University-bound goalie was still very warm and red after removing layer after layer of protective equipment. She had withstood the best efforts of striker Katie McDavitt (Walpole, Mass.), as Team Amherst generated four first-half corners.

"We pretty much had our eye on her," McDonnell said. "There were a bunch of (shooters), actually, and (McDavitt) was one of them."

Cape May, however, was able to score on what turned out to be its only shot on goal in this 26-minute game. Katie Nicholson (Clarksburg, N.J.), the country's best scholastic prospect in the Class of 2000, scored a scintillating field goal shortly before the end of the first half.

On the play, Nicholson sprung from the midfield, sprinted past Amherst's sweeper, and cut hard to the right. The move drew the Amherst keeper out of the cage and opened a small space which Nicholson found for the goal.

"Once we were able to score, we could save our energy and play more defense," said Cape May coach Lori Vile. "It was a matter of who had the freshest legs at the time."

There were still more chances for the Amherst attack in the second half, but Cape May goalkeeper Diana Nelson (Old Bridge Township, N.J.) made three strong saves to preserve the win.

 Cape May  1  0


 Amherst  0  0



CM: Katie Nicholson (FG), 13th minute.

Saves: CM: Lauren McDonnell 5, Diana Nelson 3; A: Michelle Routhier 0, Katie Zacharian 0.



In the U-16 final, Baltimore-area goalkeepers Nancy Tokar (Elkton, Md.) and Meredith Swartz (Potomac, Md.) had been perfect in stroke shootouts in the semifinal and final rounds. In the championship, after a goalless draw, Tokar was sent to defend the cage and was splendid, withstanding four of five Syracuse strokes to give Baltimore the championship.

The gold-medal game was a fitting climax to a dominating performance on the part of Team Baltimore, who gave up no goals in field play in its eight games. Indeed, when Tiffany Marsh (Marathon, N.Y.) scored in the second round of the stroke shootout, it was the only goal that Baltimore goalkeeping allowed in the four-day tournament.

"We had what it takes to be a team, even when we didn't score," Swartz said. "We kept together and remained strong."

Oddly enough, Tokar was not one of the dozens of players working on stroke play on the adjoining fields in the breaks between games.

"I like strokes a lot," said Tokar, who goes to school in neighboring Delaware. "I know they're probably in the goalie's favor, but I like them."

"She never gets nervous at all," Swartz said. "It came down to who felt warm at the time."

The game, though scoreless, featured its share of scoring chances. Syracuse created four corner chances in the first half, but the Baltimore corner defense unit, led by Michele Rigby (Dover, Del.) and Bryttany Schneider (Middletown, Md.) defensed all four of them.

In the second half, Baltimore had its best scoring chance when the fine U-16 national teamer Carey Fetting-Smith (Lutherville, Md.) blasted a corner shot off the goalpost.

It was the third time in three years a team from the Delmarva region had won a gold medal in the National Futures Tournament; the U-19 Dover team had won its championship the last two years, but did not have a good tournament in 1999.

 Baltimore  0  0


 Syracuse  0  0


(Baltimore won 2-1 in penalty strokes)


B: Michelle Rigby, Emily Swartz

S: Tiffany Marsh

Saves: B: Nancy Tokar 2, Meredith Swartz 1; S: Ashley Pitkin 2, Quinn Dougherty 0. 1