Before the U.S. women’s field hockey team headed to Guadalajara, Mexico for the 2011 Pan American Games, they gathered in Colorado for a team retreat. The idea was to get some altitude training in, but the real goal was to build a sense of camaraderie.
“It really brought us together,” said striker Katie O’Donnell, who missed the cut for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team but figures to be a major player in London. “We had a no cell phone rule and we just spent every minute together. We carved pumpkins, had bonfires, went rock climbing.”
Today, the team is officially together for the London 2012 Olympic Games. U.S. women’s field hockey coach Lee Bodimeade announced the 16-player roster, which includes O’Donnell. All qualifiers are subject to approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Bodimeade announced the team after overseeing an eight-day Women’s National Championship, which was held at O’Donnell’s alma mater, the University of Maryland. O’Donnell, who graduated in 2011, led the Terrapins to two NCAA titles during her college tenure. Now she hopes to lead Team USA to its first Olympic gold medal. The last time the U.S. earned an Olympic medal in women’s field hockey was a bronze back in 1984 in Los Angeles.
The United States is hoping to bounce back from an eighth-place finish in Beijing.
“We had 16 rookies at the Olympics in 2008 and now to have seven athletes with that experience on the Olympic Team puts us in a much better position heading to London,” said Bodimeade, a silver medalist with the Australian men’s field hockey team at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.
In addition to Olympic experience, the team features 13 players who were part of the U.S. team that upset No. 1-ranked Argentina in the finals of the XVI Pan American Games. That victory earned the United States a spot in London.
The United States will face Argentina again as part of its final pre-London tune-up, appropriately scheduled for International Olympic Day on June 23, in Virginia Beach, Va. The game will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network.
“We didn’t play a perfect game against Argentina at the Pan Am Games,” said U.S. team captain Lauren Crandall. “You never do that, but on that day we were close to perfection, and there was such a feeling of being united. It was big for us and for Team USA.
“But you’re only as good as your next game.”
And for these players, they are only as good as they are together.
Over the past year, they have lived together, traveled together and even trained with the Navy SEALs to the point of exhaustion together.
For much of the past year, these women have been training and living together at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. They are so close that Crandall refers to her teammates as sisters. Some of the teammates actually are sisters: Julia Reinprecht will be joining her sister, Katie, in London.
Crandall called training with the SEALs “pivotal in our bonding,” and several of the players admitted they could not have made it through their physical and mental battle against Argentina at the Pan Am Games if they hadn’t been tested so significantly with the SEALs.
“It was a good test of what we are willing to put out for each other,” Julia Reinprecht said.
Nine of the 16 members hail from Pennsylvania and virtually all of the players are from the East Coast, yet they packed their bags for Southern California. Keli Smith-Puzo, 33, meanwhile, gave birth to her second child nine months ago and had to juggle training with early-morning diaper changes. And she had to do it all while her husband, Inako Puzo, was coaching the field hockey team across the country at Miami University in Ohio. Some of the players, such as Julia Reinprecht, took time away from their college studies to play for this team.
But these women have developed such a close bond that during the Women’s National Championships, when the players were divided into teams based on their regions in the country, it was an odd feeling not to be together.
“I went running with Katie and we saw some teammates who were playing for other teams,” said midfielder Katelyn Falgowski, who was named to her second Olympic squad. “It was weird not seeing people for a few days.”
Now that the team is officially whole again, it has its sights set on its Olympic pool, which includes New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Australia and Argentina.
If the team is going to get far in the Olympic Games, it has to get past the Argentina obstacle again and early. Game 2 for the United States in London is against Argentina. Falgowski’s performance at the Pan Am Games was a big reason why the United States upended the top team in the world, 4-2. In that final, Falgowski did what few other players have found out how to do: shut down Luciana Aymar, the Argentine captain and the Michael Jordan of her sport.
Aymar is so popular in Argentina, Bodimeade said, fans wait a glimpse of their players outside of hotels.
“They’re on billboards and TV,” Bodimeade said. “It’s completely different but one day it might be like that in the United States.”
What made Falgowski’s performance against Aymar all the more incredible is that Falgowski was playing with a torn up knee. She injured her left knee in September, prior to the Pan Am Games, but did not how severe her injury was until after the tournament. She came home to find out she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament and underwent surgery in December.
The knee injury came about a year after she suffered a concussion that sidelined her for about six months. The concussion’s after effects were so strong that she needed to wear corrective glasses for a while.
“Recovering from the knee injury wasn’t so bad because after suffering a concussion, anything else is like a piece of cake,” she said. “With the ACL, I was able to see progress quickly.”
Falgowski, who was named a 2011 World All-Star by the International Hockey Federation, and was among four nominees for the 2011 FIH Young Player of the Year Award, has had so many injuries that nothing seems to bother her much now.
Falgowski had to laugh that in the opening minutes of a game during the Women’s National Tournament she got hit above her eye with a ball. She didn’t need stitches, but was banged up nonetheless.
But like virtually every other player on this 16-player family, Falgowski is not going to let any obstacle stand in her way of the ultimate test in London.
“I figure if I can get through a concussion, I can get through anything,” Falgowski said.
And this team will get through it together.U.S. Olympic Women’s Field Hockey Team by position
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.