Spanning from the first time you sat behind the steering wheel of a car to opening your first college acceptance letter, first-time feelings provide a scrapbook of unforgettable moments. They mark something bigger in the works. For 72 athletes at both the Under-21 Championship and the Futures Elite Championship (FEC), another first-time feeling is on the brink. These hand-selected players are working toward a chance to represent Team USA and make their first appearance on the international stage at the 2013 Junior World Cup in Mönchengladbach, Germany.
Some of the nation’s most talented young athletes have been invited to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. from June 20-25 in hopes of earning a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team and the Junior World Cup roster.
Knowing just how much pressure and excitement is surrounding the events, U-21 National Team and American University head coach Steve Jennings sat down with USA Field Hockey to discuss both championships and the Junior National Team selection process.
USA Field Hockey: What kind of dynamic does the Futures Elite Championship and U-21 Championship bring to an athlete’s career?
SJ: The FEC is one of the best opportunities for Under-17 and Under-19 to be seen by our national team staff and the Under-21 Championship provides an excellent opportunity for our older athletes to begin the selection process for our U-21 national squad. It’s a select opportunity for any age group to get this much exposure to better themselves with an elite level of Junior National Camp coaches and national team selectors.
USA Field Hockey: Why are the FEC and U-21 Championship important in the development of future national team players?
SJ: These tournaments further heighten the development of athletes by surrounding them with some of the greatest minds in field hockey. They’re learning from fantastic coaches and playing with and against great players to better position themselves to compete for their first-time on an international level.
USA Field Hockey: When will the U21 National Team and Junior World Cup Team be announced and how are the athletes notified?
SJ: We plan on making an announcement on June 28 during Junior National Camp where we hope to be telling the athletes of their status face-to –face.
USA Field Hockey: What are you looking for in potential U21 National Team athletes?
SJ: We’re looking for physically-gifted athletes who perform really well under game pressure. Of course the athletes need to be passionate about the sport, hungry and willing to learn. They need to be able to solve problems on their own within a match as well. These are some of the key factors we’re looking for in the next level of play.
USA Field Hockey: How will the U.S. U-21 National Squad fare on the international stage this summer against top opponents like Argentina, Australia and New Zealand?
SJ: There are a lot of great athletes throughout the country. We still have a lot of hard work to go but I feel good about with the talent pool we are looking at.
The Junior World Cup consists of 16 teams competing in pools of four. The U.S. earned a spot at the 2013 Junior World Cup event by finishing third at the 2012 Pan American Junior Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico. View the Junior World Cup participating teams and schedule of competitions.