Road to Rio

Sept. 13, 2012, 2:17 p.m. (ET)

GUADALAJARA – For players like Katie Gerzabek and Abby Beltrani, wearing the red, white and blue only adds fuel to their desire. 

Take a look at the Pan American Junior Championship roster. The top U-21 athletes in the country are donning the red, white and blue for the 14-day competition in Guadalajara, Mexico. Of the 24 men’s and women’s teams competing, five spots for the Junior World Cup are up for grabs. The short term goal is exactly that; automatic qualification to the 2013 Junior World Cup.

But, the long term goal is a bit more obscure; selection to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Roster. 

Undoubtedly, a handful of the athletes representing the U.S. in Guadalajara over the next two weeks will also be representing the U.S. at the Rio Olympic Games four years from now.

“Wearing the red, white and blue in Mexico definitely fuels my desire to make it to the next level and to hopefully, eventually, make it to the Olympic Games. Playing the sport we love and getting to wear the USA jersey to represent our country really motivates me to want to make it to the next level. Just thinking about the Olympics right now gives me the chills. It’s always in the back of my mind as motivation,” said Beltrani.

Flashback to four years ago, October 2008. Katie O’Donnell, Paige Selenski, Melissa Gonzalez and sisters Katie and Julia Reinprecht were members of the 2008 Pan American Junior Championship Team in Mexico City, Mexico. A gold medal earned the U.S. a spot at the 2009 Junior World Cup. 

But, what is more significant than these old results is that the five athletes mentioned above represented the U.S. on the world’s largest stage in London at the Olympic Games this past summer.

“I think this is the first step to making my Olympic dream come true,” said Gerzabek about participating in the Pan American Junior Championship.  

Gerzabek is right. The future of field hockey and the Road to Rio starts now, in Guadalajara. 

Gerzabek is a sophomore at the University of Maryland. She made the U-17, U-19 and U-21 National Squad before playing a collegiate game. She is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Olympians and former Terrapins O’Donnell and Keli Smith Puzo.

“Seeing fellow Terps Katie and Keli competing in these past Olympics and to have former Olympian Dina Rizzo as a coach, definitely makes me want to follow in their footsteps. Knowing that these Olympians have once been in my shoes, exactly where I am today, gets me that much more excited to work towards my dreams of one day becoming an Olympic athlete,” said Gerzabek. 

For U.S. Men’s National Team member Tyler Sundeen the Olympic dream is just as vivid. 

Although the U.S. Men’s Field Hockey Team was not present in London, do not count them out for Rio. Sundeen’s five year plan is to continue to develop his skills and do whatever he can to help the U.S. Men’s Team make the next Olympic Games. The future is bright for the young Junior and Senior Men’s Squad. 

“Playing in the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 would honestly be a dream come true. Putting on the jersey with USA across the chest is such an honor and being able to represent my country would be such an amazing feeling. I know how excited I get to put on the jersey now, so being able to put it on in an Olympic setting would just seem unbelievably surreal,” said Gerzabek.  

Maybe surreal, but a very good chance these young stars in Guadalajara will be Olympians in four short years.  

“It would be a dream come true,” said Beltrani.