RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Take a glance at the Olympic roster for the United States women’s field hockey team, and you’ll notice a recurring theme — 12 of the 25 players on the undefeated squad are from Pennsylvania.
The state’s success in the sport goes back decades. Beth Anders, the leading overall women’s scorer at the 1984 Olympics, is from Norristown. Ten of the 16 players on that bronze-medal winning team were from Pennsylvania.
The Americans now seek their first medal since that run in Los Angeles. They play Britain on Saturday to determine which team will win Pool B. After that, they’ll play in the quarterfinals.
If the United States returns to the podium, the Keystone State will have played a major role. The top American standouts at this year’s games — forward Katie Bam (Blue Bell) and goalie Jackie Briggs (Robesonia) — are from there.
“To a large degree, it’s self-fulfilling,” USA field hockey executive director Simon Hoskins said. “The elite players become elite coaches in that area, and they help develop the next generation of athletes. It’s been a virtuous cycle of ever-improving hockey, and now we’re at this level that — we can compete with anyone. We’re world-beaters right now, which is great to see.”
Other players on the roster from Pennsylvania are Ali Campbell (Gilbertsville), Lauren Crandall (Doylestown), Katelyn Falgowski (Landenberg), Kelsey Kolojejchick (Larksville), Alyssa Manley (Lititz), sisters Julia and Katie Reinprecht (Perkasie), Paige Selenski (Shavertown), Kathleen Sharkey (Moosic) and Jill Witmer (Lancaster). All are from the eastern third of the state.
Pennsylvania’s success prompted the national program to move its headquarters to Lancaster in 2013. U.S. coach Craig Parnham said the training site was moved from Chula Vista, California, so the players could train together and build camaraderie while being close to family and friends. The facility, about a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia, is appropriately named the “Home of Hockey.”
Pennsylvania has the infrastructure to help young players develop — Bam said she had a stick in her hands when she was 3 and began playing at 7. The Pennsylvania group grew up in the culture, which has only become stronger as it has blossomed together.
“I think the competition when you’re growing up breeds it,” Falgowski said. “I think always playing at a high level against good competition — a lot of us grew up playing against each other. I think 10, 20 years of doing that together really raises the bar, and the competitive spirit within us really wants to challenge each other and play as best we can.”
Pennsylvania is so heavily represented at the games, in part, because the sport hasn’t caught on to the same degree beyond the east coast. None of the players on the team are from a state that doesn’t border the Atlantic Ocean.
That could change in the future. Hoskins said USA Field Hockey has grown from a 15,000-member organization to 25,000 in the past five years, with most of the growth in places such as Chicago, St. Louis and Houston and parts of California and Colorado.
“Our mission is to serve our members, grow the game and compete internationally,” he said. “By succeeding internationally, by performing in the Olympic Games, by exposing our beautiful sport to more people across America, we would love it to grow, and make it a great way to inspire young female and male athletes to play our game.”