TORONTO -- The U.S. women’s field hockey team captured its second straight Pan American Games gold medal in a 2-1, thrilling renewal of its rivalry with Argentina.
Riding the high of qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games – achieved once both the U.S. and Argentina won their semifinals – Team USA capped its relentless run to gold after outscoring its six opponents, 39-1, over the Pan Am tournament.
“It’s just incredible to be able to go through this experience with all these girls,” said defender Alyssa Manley, the newest member of the team. “It’s awesome. I think it shows that everyone knows we’re coming for them now.”
The U.S. and Argentina have met in seven of the eight Pan Am gold-medal matches since the women’s tournament was added in 1987. Argentina had won them all until 2011, when Team USA claimed gold, 4-2, to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Jackie Briggs, a member of the 2011 team, described the rivalry as “fantastic.”
“We’re both such good teams,” Briggs said. “They always bring it. It doesn’t matter what they play like in any tournament, we know when we play them, they’re going to play their best and we have to bring our best. We love playing them.”
The U.S. qualified for the 2016 Games by virtue of being the next highest ranked team from the Hockey World League Semifinals since Argentina had already claimed its spot at that tournament.
USWNT coach Craig Parnham emphasized the conviction of capturing gold in addition to the team’s Olympic qualification.
“It’s important for us to come here and perform well and win this tournament and try to qualify for the Olympics by right,” he said. “To be able to win the continental championship is very important.”
These nations account for two of the 12 that will compete in Rio, nine of which have already been determined. The remaining three will be determined by the end of October.
On Friday, the U.S. built a 2-0 cushion with a pair of scores in the first 10 minutes of the second half, then played sound defense the rest of the way – as they had the past two weeks, holding opponents scoreless until Argentina mustered a goal with 12 minutes to play in the final.
“It’s important for us to stay disciplined and part of the game is defending, and I thought we did a great job with that tonight,” Parnham said. “It shows a good deal of mental resilience and belief and toughness, and that’s very pleasing when you’re doing that under pressure.”
Added Briggs, “The clock takes forever to count down, but I knew we were going to hold strong on defense. We all dug in and did what we had to do, did enough to come out with the win.”
“We’re in the tournament, so we’ve got a chance, but that’s as far as we’ll go,” Parnham said of the team’s chances in Rio. “I think you know as well as I do that there’s a lot of work that goes in and we can start in earnest now and look towards the next part of the journey, which is the next 12 months in the lead to Rio.”