USWNT Produce ‘Never Say Die’ Performance on Way to Being Crowned FIH Hockey World League Semifinals Champions

Images courtesy of Rodrigo Jaramillo and Getty Images/FIH

July 23, 2017, 1:02 p.m. (ET)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – July 23, 2017 – In front of a sold-out crowd at Wits University, the No. 6 U.S. Women’s National Team and No. 7 Germany both ran on the field before the anthems with one goal in mind – to win the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals title match. After being scoreless at the half, Germany found the backboard in the third quarter. USA used pure grit and determination to find the equalizer off a penalty stroke late in the game. This forced shootouts where USA would come out on top 3-2 to become champions.

"Playing a final against a quality team like Germany, you know you have to be ready," said Janneke Schopman USWNT Head Coach. "We struggled with their shape but kept fighting and that's why I love this team. Maybe it wasn't pretty but we didn't give up and managed to create something from nothing."

Play for much of the first quarter was held between the 25 yard lines as both teams looked for positive circle outcomes. USA had a few chances formed by quick passes that lead to numbers up situations but failed to find a result. A close chance came in the 12th minute of play when Melissa Gonzalez (Mohegan Lake, N.Y.) intercepted the ball in the middle of the field to produce a 2v2 situation heading toward goal. The first quarter finished locked at zeroes.

Play resumed in the same fashion at the start of the second quarter before Germany found some momentum and put USA on their heels. As Germany continued the constant attacking, USA shifted to a half field press actively looking to intercept the ball. A chance came in the 22nd minute for Germany when there was a scramble in front of the goal but the play was successfully shutdown by USA’s defense. This sparked a 5-minute span for Germany as breaks presented themselves but USA goalkeeper Jackie Briggs (Robesonia, Pa.) and defense halted the attacks. Continuing to play in a half field press, USA maintained Germany to keep it 0-0 at halftime.

Trying to enforce their quickness, USA started the third quarter with speed taking the ball into their offensive end. Germany responded moving possession the other way but Caitlin Van Sickle (Wilmington, Del.) was there to make the stop. USA’s defense continued to be tested but as a unit they held strong. In the 38th minute, Germany hit a hard ball into their circle, possession found a striker on the baseline who dumped it across and it was putted in by Camille Nobis to give Germany a 1-0 lead. USA shifted gears and pushed forward creating looks of their own but were unable to convert before the quarter was over. 

USA knew they had to work together in the final 15 minutes in search for the equalizer. They withstood constant Germany pressure by using effective communication and being determined on defense. In the 58th minute, when Kat Sharkey (Moosic, Pa.) drove hard into the circle, stayed strong on the ball and was pushed off aggressively by a German defender, a penalty stroke was given. Taylor West (Princess Anne, Md.) stepped up to the mark and with poise successfully executed the stroke to tie the match at 1-1 and send it into a shootout.

The first four attempts saw Gonzalez and Michelle Vittese (Cherry Hill, N.J.) send the ball into the goal and on the defending side Briggs blocked two of Germany’s attempts. Heading into the fifth and final round of shootouts, the score was 2-2 producing a nail bitter. Germany’s fifth attempt went into the goal but did not cross the goal line before the 8-second horn went so it was disallowed. This left Erin Matson (Chadds Ford, Pa.), one of the youngest athletes in the tournament, to go for USA. Stepping up to the 25-yard line, Matson sprinted forward after the whistle, pulled right and hit the backboard to secure the win.

“The last five minutes of the game were an athletes’ dream,” said Vittese. “Our energy was incredibly positive, we fed off each other’s high work load and intensity. We took accountability of our individual roles and executed our jobs. Most importantly, we stayed together.”

“Germany is an incredible opponent and we had to fight tooth and nail to earn the penalty stroke,” added Vittese. “It was an incredible team effort and I couldn’t be prouder of this group.”

Three different USA athlete also received honors for their incredible performances. Jill Witmer (Lancaster, Pa.) earned Top Goal Scorer of the Tournament, tallying five goals throughout the event. Briggs earned Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament following her impressive defense during two shootout victories and Gonzalez was named Best Player of the Tournament for her leadership and constant hustle.


Top Goal Scorer of the Tournament: Jill Witmer
 


Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Jackie Briggs

 
Best Player of the Tournament: Melissa Gonzalez

 

"This tournament was a great learning experience and I am very pleased with the development of the whole team," finished Schopman. 

At FIH Hockey World League Semifinals, USA persevered to come back to defeat the only two teams to upset them in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. In similar fashion, USA scored in the final minutes of regulation to force both matches into a shootout where they were victorious.

Don’t miss the USWNT in action back on American soil at the 2017 women’s Pan American Cup on Saturday, August 5 when they face No. 30 Mexico at 7:00 p.m. ET. Tickets for the contest are still available and can be purchased by clicking here. For more information on the Pan American Cups including a full schedule or more information, visit the PAC Event Page on usafieldhockey.com.