Field hockey's keystone state: Pennsylvania
The United States women's field hockey team running drills during a training session at Riverbank Arena on July 24, 2012
Keystone State of Mind
The women’s Olympic squad has nine of 16 players from the Keystone State. Pennsylvanians also account for 13 of 27 total players on the Women’s National Team, six of 15 on the Women’s Development Squad and 28 of 60 combined on the U-21 and U-19 teams of the Women’s Junior Squad.
The Olympians from Pennsylvania, with their hometown:
Kayla Bashore Smedley, Shoemakersville
Lauren Crandall, Doylestown
Katelyn Falgowski, Landenberg
Katie O’Donnell, Blue Bell
Julia Reinprecht, Perkasie
Katie Reinprecht, Perkasie
Paige Selenski, Shavertown
Keli Smith Puzo, Selinsgrove
Amy Swensen, Grantville
Crandall, Falgowski, O'Donnell and the Reinprecht sisters are from the Philadelphia suburbs; Smedley and Swensen are from the Capital Region; Selenski is from the Wyoming Valley, which is in the northeast; and Puzo from closer to the center of the state.
The attendees of a field hockey camp in Kingston, Pa., received a special gift and a reminder as they concluded activities a day before the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Lauren Powley, a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, passed out American flags to each of the young girls. Powley encouraged them to follow Team USA over the next two weeks.
“I definitely tried to get them excited about the Olympics, especially with the U.S. team doing so well.”
Watching the sport at its highest level can be a learning experience. Hearing about it from a woman, who advanced from the same Wyoming Seminary Preparatory School campus to Beijing, can be an inspiration.
“It’s good for them to watch that level of field hockey and be excited about the potential for being there some day,” Powley said.
Powley is one of two Olympic field hockey players from nearby Mountaintop, Pa. Diane Madl, who played in the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, played at the public school in Mountaintop, Crestwood, which is Wyoming Seminary’s chief rival.
Madl began learning the sport in eighth grade and Powley in seventh.
Lauren Crandall, a member of the U.S. team in Beijing and one of the key players for Team USA en route to the gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games, is the team's captain. Appropriately, her hometown is Doylestown, Pa. The U.S. team plays its first Olympic match of the 2012 Games Sunday against Germany.
Karen Klassner, Powley’s high school coach, is impressed with her former player’s ability to bring enthusiasm to players of a younger age.
Klassner, a National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame member, has taken Wyoming Seminary to seven state finals, winning five titles, including the last two Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class AA championships.
Powley drew 110 players ages 12-and-below to a fall camp at the school on the field that bears Klassner’s name.
“I was shocked when she got 100 kids,” Klassner said. “I was expecting 40.”
Powley brought out another 35 youngsters last week, including 10 who were 5-years-old.
“She’s trying to pattern a little more after Europe and what youth soccer programs have done here,” Klassner said.
Powley’s work with young players, including through her KaPow club teams, could be seen as a way to help keep Pennsylvania dominant on the national level. Her goals, however, reach far beyond that.
“If they start playing at 5- or 6-years-old, field hockey is going to be a lot more natural to them,” said Powley, who was already a part of junior national teams when she led Wyoming Seminary to a state title before serving as co-captain on a national championship team at the University of Maryland. “Their stick skills will come so much more naturally to them that as they become older, you can focus on other things like tactics.
“You see around the country that people are trying to start programs in the same age as they start for soccer. I think we will have to do that to get to the level of other countries, for example Holland and Argentina, where they start at 5 or 6."
There seems to be no better place to start than eastern Pennsylvania, specifically the Wyoming Valley which surrounds Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Paige Selenski from Dallas (Pa.) High School and the University of Virginia is a speedy forward on the current Olympic team.
Dallas is part of Division I of the Wyoming Valley Conference where it is the only member schools that does not have a state final in its history. Six of the other seven teams have won state championships.
“I think so much of the credit for that would go to the coaches in that area and the entire state,” said Madl, a state champion at Crestwood and national champion at the University of Connecticut who is now the head coach at Providence College. “The coaches in that area do a great job of understanding what it takes to get kids excited about the sport and wanting to make it part of their lives.”
Madl had grown up with softball and basketball and practicing with the youth baseball teams her father coached. After a year as a goalie in junior high field hockey, she became a field player and found her specialty in a highly successful athletic career.
The Opening Ceremony in Atlanta were a confirmation that Madl had made the right choice.
“That’s usually a big one, especially for first-time Olympians,” Madl said of the ceremony. “I always refer to it as almost a complete out-of-body experience.
“Realizing that you made it is pretty overwhelming.”
Elvetta Gemski, Madl’s high school coach, remains at Crestwood. Another NFHCA Hall of Famer, Gemski has 555 wins and four state titles at Crestwood.
Klassner has 566 wins at Wyoming Seminary from which she, like Gemski, has sent a steady stream of players to major national programs.
Outside of the high school season, Klassner has taken travel squads from the area, gaining exposure for players from rival programs. She was named Developmental Coach of the Year by the USFHA in 2006 and National Coach of the Year in 2009.
The districts that represent the Philadelphia suburbs and the capital region surrounding Harrisburg feature many more total schools and athletes and have produced even more state champions than the smaller group from the Wyoming Valley.
In between, lies Emmaus, which competes in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area and has won more state titles than any school under Sue Butz-Stavin.
Butz-Stavin has 759 career wins and 10 state championships. Her Emmaus team had won 52 straight games, including the 2010 Class AAA (large school) title, before falling in the 2011 state semifinal.
While the Olympic Games were opened Friday, Butz-Stavin was on her usual mid-summer assignment, coaching the Lehigh Valley Region Scholastic Division team at the Keystone State Games.
The balance of field hockey power in the Keystone State Games, where teams annually play for the Klassner Cup as part of Olympic-style, multisport competition, often shifts according to which squads have lost the most players to national team competitions and training.
Madl first drew the attention of college coaches with her Keystone Games efforts.
Being the best in Pennsylvania can be a fierce competition, but it is only the start for the top players. They strive to follow the path that took nine state residents to London this month.
“I’m extremely proud of the Pennsylvania legacy and the tradition carrying on,” Madl said. “I’m so excited to see all the Pennsylvania girls really contribute to a really special opportunity. I think we have a tremendous shot at the podium this year.
“Paige Selenski, who is from the Wyoming Valley, is absolutely phenomenal. I wish her the best of luck. I’m sure they all know we’re pulling for them.”
And, hoping they are part of making the entire national team stronger.
“Once they get there, it’s not about Pennsylvania or anywhere else,” Madl said. “It’s about USA and I know they are representing very well.”