Michelle Vittese scored on a free hit in the 42nd minute for the lone goal over Japan in the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals on Tuesday, a win that not only sent the U.S. women’s field hockey team on to the tournament’s semifinal round on Thursday, but that also qualified the Americans for two of the sport’s biggest events.
With the win, Team USA has earned a spot in the Hockey World League Finals in November in Auckland, New Zealand, as well as a spot in the 2018 Hockey World Cup in London next July.
The U.S. women, ranked No. 6 in the world, received stellar play in goal from Jackie Briggs. Three-time Olympian Katelyn Ginolfi (née Falgowski) earned her 250th international cap and helped the U.S. fashion a stifling defense against the No. 11 Japanese.
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The U.S. went 2-2 in pool play to advance to the tournament quarterfinals. Team USA defeated No. 8 China 1-0 to open the tournament, and No. 12 India 4-1 before consecutive losses to No. 3 Argentina (4-0) and host No. 13 South Africa (3-2).
“For us, especially with this young team, it’s good for us to be playing in the semifinals in this tournament, and that we can also play in the (World League) Finals against all these top countries,” said U.S. coach Janneke Schopman. “That is key for us, we’ve never been in this tournament before and that is a testament to this team and how much they’ve worked.”
Team USA dominated on offense in the opening half and at the start of the second against Japan, and then played a protective game in the final 15 minutes to preserve the win. Japan made things interesting in the final eight minutes after pulling its goalie for a two-player advantage after Team USA’s Nicole Woods received a yellow card, but the U.S. defense held tight to secure the win and clinch the crucial advancements.
The U.S. plays the winner of England-India in Thursday’s semifinals at a time to be determined.
Gary R. Blockus is a journalist from Allentown, Pennsylvania who has covered multiple Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.