The U.S. women's field hockey team poses for a photo during Team USA's Road to Rio Tour presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance on April 27, 2016 in New York City.
As the U.S. women’s field hockey team enters the prestigious Hockey Champions Trophy in London later this week, the scene is quite different than a previous visit to the UK’s largest city.
At the 2012 Olympic Games, Team USA finished last in the 12-team field.
The turnaround began almost immediately with the arrival of new coach Craig Parnham in January 2013, and it got a huge boost when Team USA qualified for the Champions Trophy for the first time in nearly two decades by merit of winning the 2014 Champions Challenge in Glasgow, Scotland.
The U.S. women also had their best finish in 20 years at 2014 Hockey World Cup, finishing fourth in 2014 in the Netherlands, and then steamrolled through the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto without a loss, beating Argentina 2-1 in the final.
Now seventh in the FIH World Rankings, the U.S. women warmed up for the Champions Trophy earlier this month by splitting two games against the top-ranked Netherlands on the Dutch team’s home turf. After falling 4-2 in the opener, Team USA won the second match 3-2 when goalkeeper Jackie Briggs made a spectacular save of an above-the-shoulder redirection at the far post.
That success has U.S. players feeling confident heading into their final international event before August’s Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“As a group, we are closer than ever,” forward Michelle Kasold said shortly after the team’s arrival in London this week. “Our trust in each other, along with our ability to push each other and pick each other up when times get hard, truly make us family.
“We are united.”
Parnham, a two-time Olympian for Great Britain who as an assistant coach led the British women’s team to a bronze medal in the 2012 Games, brought 19 players to the Champions Trophy. Ten of them are back from the 2012 Olympic team, including Briggs, Kasold, captain and defender Lauren Crandall, midfielder Katie Reinprecht and forward Kelsey Kolojejchick.
The final roster for the Rio Games will be trimmed to 16, with the official announcement expected to come July 1.
Crandall, a two-time Olympian who captained the team at the London Games, earned her 200th international cap in 2013. Reinprecht, whose sister Julia Reinprecht is also a teammate, secured her 150th cap in last week’s 4-2 loss to the Netherlands. Kasold, a member of Team USA since 2006, barely missed the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Six of the top seven countries in the FIH World rankings will compete for the Champions Trophy at London’s Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. Besides the U.S. and Dutch teams, the rest of the field includes second-ranked Argentina, third-ranked Australia, fourth-ranked New Zealand and sixth-ranked Great Britain. Each team will play one game against each opponent before a sixth and final match, based on performance, decides the Trophy winner.
Team USA opens Saturday against Australia at 7 a.m. EST. The U.S. women lost to Australia in a shootout at the 2014 World Cup. Kolojejchick scored both U.S. regulation goals, including her team-leading fifth goal of the tournament to tie the match 2-2 with less than two minutes to play. She also scored the team’s only goal in the shootout, but Australia goalkeeper Rachael Lynch stopped three other shots to preserve the win for her team.
“We learned from that game that we had to do some more work on our penalty shootouts, and that’s something we’ve spent time on the last couple of years,” Parnham said. “More importantly, we also learned that we can compete with these teams. That in itself gives the players a lot of confidence.”
Parnham believes his team’s speed on the front half of the field will be an advantage against Australia and the other teams in the Champions Trophy.
The U.S. team goes on to face Argentina on Sunday, the Netherlands on Tuesday, Great Britain on Thursday and New Zealand next Saturday before the final performance matches wrap up the competition on Sunday, June 26.
Live streaming of the Champions Trophy will be available at a cost through Willow TV, the FIH’s broadcast partner.