The U.S. women’s field hockey team will try to carry the momentum and confidence from winning the Champions Challenge earlier this month in Scotland into the Rabobank World Cup, which starts Saturday in The Hague, Netherlands.
“The Champions Challenge was an important series of games for the team and the squad as a whole,” coach Craig Parnham told TeamUSA.org. “Not only was it important for us to understand where our program is at physically and technically, but it also served as part of our selection process for the World Cup.”
The Champions Challenge’s contribution to the selection process was to convince Parnham to go to the same lineup in the World Cup, one of the two most important events in the field hockey world.
The team returned from Scotland to more training. When it headed back to Europe last weekend, Parnham took the same roster of 18 players from a pool of 29 national team players.
The U.S. women return 11 players from their last shot at the sport’s other big event — the Olympic Games. Strikers Michelle Kasold, Katie O’Donnell and Paige Selenski; midfielders Rachel Dawson, Katelyn Falgowski, Melissa Gonzalez, Katie Reinprecht and Michelle Vittese; and defenders Lauren Crandall, Caroline Nichols and Julie Reinprecht are back and trying to improve on a disappointing finish at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Parnham took over as U.S. coach in January 2013. He inherited a team that finished last in the 12-team field in London and brings his squad into the World Cup ranked 10th.
The United States will play in Pool B along with second-seeded Argentina, third-seeded England, Germany, China and South Africa. Host Netherlands, the top-ranked team, is in Pool A with Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan and Belgium.
“We know we’re better than what we did at the Olympics,” Selenski, who scored the last U.S. goal in London, said in an interview last year.
The World Cup is the first chance to show that against all of the top competition in the world and Parnham reminds there is an achievement in just getting the shot.
“The World Cup and Olympic Games are the two most significant tournaments in international field hockey,” said Parnham, a former assistant coach for England. “Both tournaments traditionally feature the top-12 ranked teams in the world. In addition, both tournaments only come around every four years and there is a long and highly contested qualification process.
“To qualify for a World Cup and Olympic Games is not an easy journey and I must commend the players for qualifying for this World Cup.”
The U.S. women finished sixth in the 2006 World Cup but did not qualify in 2010.
This year’s qualification process was completed long before the United States tuned up with its Champions Challenge title, which came with a 3-1 victory over Ireland on May 4 to complete an effort in which the team won four of five games.
Selenski, who was named Player of the Match, erased an early deficit. Nichols put the United States ahead before halftime and O’Donnell scored the final goal.
“Our goal coming into this tournament was to grow each game,” Crandall, the U.S. captain, said in a press release following the final.
“This gives us confidence going into the World Cup.”
The United States plays England in its opener Sunday. Pool play continues through June 10 with the final set for June 14.
The remainder of the roster includes strikers Kelsey Kolojejchick, Kathleen Sharkey and Jill Witmer; midfielder Emily Wold; defender Stefanie Fee; and goalkeepers Jackie Kintzer and Alesha Widdall.
Parnham said teams that are successful in the World Cup tend find success on their set pieces, including their penalty corners. He liked the way his team responded to the demands of tournament play at the Champions Challenge, where the United States lost to South Africa in its second pool play game.
“We were pleased with the way we remained focused throughout the tournament despite some moments of adversity, which is inevitable in a tournament setting,” Parnham said. “We have been working hard on our mental game.”