A highly frustrating final game of pool play has created an extremely difficult start to elimination play at the FIH Women’s Hockey World League Semifinals for the U.S. women’s field hockey team.
Although three of 10 teams will emerge from the World League Semifinals with berths in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, one of the two highest-ranked teams will not qualify this week.
The United States, ranked fifth in the world, and Argentina, ranked third in the world, are the two most highly regarded teams entered in this event.
Ireland’s 2-0 upset on Tuesday dropped the United States from a first-place tie to third place out of five teams in the final Pool B standings. Argentina finished second in Pool A meaning the two will fight it out in the quarterfinals.
The resulting matchup makes this the biggest game of the year to date for the U.S. women.
“Every game we have played since the World Cup has been important because we continuously learn and grow as a unit to get where we are today,” starting midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick, a Wyoming Seminary graduate from Larksville who is one of three former Wyoming Valley Conference players on the U.S. team, said in an e-mail interview Wednesday. “But I do think this has a higher level of importance since it is a way to qualify for the Olympics.”
There will be more opportunities to get into the Olympics field, but the winner of the Argentina-United States game, along with the other three quarterfinal survivors, will have two shots to get qualification out of the way early. Saturday’s two semifinal winners and Sunday’s third-place game winner will be in the Olympics.
Kolojejchick, Kat Sharkey and Paige Selenski will be facing a familiar foe. Sharkey, a Wyoming Seminary graduate from Moosic, scored the deciding goal in a test series with Argentina that was played in Lancaster County earlier this year.
“They have been our rival for many years now so it is exciting to be playing them to reach the semis because we know them so well,” Kolojejchick said. “They are a very talented team with great stick skills and are very dangerous around the attacking circle.”
Sharkey scored goals in each of the first two games, wins over Uruguay (2-0) and South Africa (4-1). Selenski, a Dallas graduate and 2012 Olympian, set up Sharkey’s goal and Kolojejchick similarly sent a cross to Jill Witmer at the far post for another score against South Africa.
After a 2-2 tie with Germany, the United States fell to Ireland despite having significant statistical advantages throughout the game.
“We outplayed them and had the ball in their half almost the whole game but they packed al their players within their 25 so it didn’t give us as much room to attack the way we would like to,” Kolojejchick said of Ireland, which the United States swept in a three-game series in May, also in Lancaster County. “We had many chances but they were able to get some last-second touches to block or deflect shots which in the end helped them win the game.”
If the United States can get past Argentina, it may get another shot at solving Ireland. The U.S.-Argentina winner faces the Ireland-China winner in the semifinals.
“That is not a style of play you typically see at the international level but we still were able to create many chances,” Kolojejchick said. “We just didn’t finish the way we needed to.”
A better record in pool play would have meant a more favorable draw, but Kolojejchick said the United States accomplished its primary goal, advancing into the bracket.
“We don’t care about the record that we had during pool play,” she said. “We just needed to make it to crossovers and now we are starting with a clean slate and focused only on the next game, which is a must-win.”