Taste of Olympics has US field hockey wanting more

Aug. 07, 2012, 1:08 p.m. (ET)

As featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Written by: Phil Sheridan 

LONDON - Life on the flip side is a little tougher.

Over in the basketball arena, the U.S. men's and women's teams take turns racking up blowout wins against an overmatched field. In softball, the United States was so dominant and the rest of world so disinterested in closing the gap, the sport was dropped from the Olympics.

Here at the Riverbank Arena, the blue-turfed field hockey venue, it is the other way around. It is the United States chasing the rest of the world. As popular as the sport is in American high schools and colleges, it is a much bigger deal elsewhere on the globe.

This U.S. team, loaded with players from the Philadelphia area, went 1-4 in the round-robin stage of the Olympic tournament. The 1 was a taut, terrific 1-0 victory over powerful Argentina - proof that this team can hold its own with the best. The 4, however, meant Team USA will not advance to the knockout round. Aside from a classification game this week, its competition ended Monday with a surprisingly lackluster 7-0 loss to South Africa.

"In sport, you get what you deserve," U.S. coach Lee Bodimeade said. "We got what we deserved today."

The loss - to a team that had been beaten by a combined score of 14-2 in its first four matches - was not representative of the Americans' performance here. They were in every game except this one. The logical explanation was that, knowing they had no chance to advance, the Americans lost their edge.

"It's disappointing," said Katie O'Donnell, who is from Blue Bell. "It's been so close every game, but not gone our way. In our games against opponents ranked higher than us, we took it to them and kind of shocked the world. And then to come out and play this kind of hockey is a little bit saddening."

The silver lining - which is never as good as a silver medal - is how young this U.S. team is. The veteran, Keli Smith-Puzo of Selinsgrove, Pa., said after the game that she would be retiring after the Olympics.

"We have amazing kids coming up," Smith-Puzo said. "The young talent is going to be amazing. I think Rio [site of the 2016 Olympics] is going to be a completely different team."

Sisters Katie and Julia Reinprecht of Perkasie figure to be part of that team. They are 22 and 21, respectively. O'Donnell and Katelyn Falgowski of Chester County are just 23. Michelle Vittese of Cherry Hill is 22.

"We're still young, and that's nice," Julia Reinprecht said. "But it's disappointing we haven't done as well as we hoped."

"We know we can compete with the best teams in the world," said Katie Reinprecht, a two-time Ivy League player of the year at Princeton. "It's a matter of learning how to finish games. Just to really win games, when it comes down to it. We're a young team, and that's something we're still learning how to do. The more experience we get, the more I think we'll come away with wins instead of just coming really close and giving a good match."

The Reinprechts took a year off from Princeton to train with the national team and prepare for these Olympics. They will return to school, with Katie going into her senior year and Julia starting her junior year. But both said they intended to stick with the national program, too.

"Now that I've got a taste, it's something I definitely want to come back and try to do again," Katie Reinprecht said. "I just can't describe how awesome it is, playing for your country."

"It's the best job you could have," Julia Reinprecht said. "We've never played in front of crowds like this. People you don't even know are here, supporting the U.S.A. It's one of the coolest things ever."

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