By Al Mattei
Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

Kristen Holmes-Winn had little designs on playing international field hockey after her last experience -- an April 1, 2000 loss to China that eliminated the Stars and Stripes from the Sydney Olympics at the Milton Keynes qualifier.

So, who was that left defender with the USA on the front of her pinny in a training session at the Elite Performance Training Center at the University of Maryland on a blustery morning in 2005, a scant three days before a tour of New Zealand?

It has been an unconventional road back to Team USA for the Iowa graduate and Princeton University head coach. Since that fateful day in 2000, she left international play to start her own summer field hockey camp company, Champions' Edge.

In 2003, she was hired as the head coach of Princeton, which also included the responsibility of running the Elite Performance Training Center for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey region at the university's home ground, 1952 Stadium.

As for playing, Holmes-Winn found her outlet with the National Hockey Festival -- mixed play with Jack and Jill, and women's play with Holland Tunnel.

"I wouldn't really call it 'hockey,' " she deadpans. "We just hit the ball around a little bit."

Her duties at the Pennsylvania/New Jersey EPTC as well with the Metro Rush of the Cranbarry Summer League got her involved with the player-development side of field hockey, but little did she think that she would be one of the players involved.

"I was just coaching at 'A' Camp and at the national-team selection camp in March," Holmes-Winn says. "But a few days before I was set to leave for the selection camp, (U.S. High Performance Director) Terry Walsh called me and asked me to consider coming down as a player/coach."

Walsh remembered Holmes-Winn from a decade ago when helping coach players in preparation for the 1996 Olympic residency program, and evidently, his intuition was rewarded. She went down and made the team.

"I think it was because (assistant coaches) Steve Jennings and Nick Conway have seen me play quite a bit over the last couple of years," Holmes-Winn says. "I've played a little bit of indoor, but I guess that doesn't really count."

But during a late spring training session at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex at the University of Maryland, Holmes-Winn was in her element, moving fluidly and delivering passes with her legendary ball strike.

Her presence on the team comes at an interesting time for the national team. Whereas she had been a young part of the U.S. team in the late 90s, she is one of just two players chosen for the 2005 New Zealand tour born before 1979.

So, what's it like playing with the youngsters, including 16-year-old Katie O'Donnell?

"There are some amazing young players; Katie is on my regional team, and I also like playing with Lauren Crandall," Holmes-Winn says. "The bottom line is, I like to play, and there's nothing I enjoy better."

Holmes-Winn played seven out of nine matches in the New Zealand tour and a four-Test series with Australia, and was selected to the Champions' Challenge team.