Former ACC Field Hockey Stars Shine as Team USA Remains Undefeated in the Olympics
DEODORO, Brazil (TeamUSA.org)- The U.S. Olympic Women’s Field Hockey Team isn't content resting alone on the achievement of participating in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. That was proven again today. Upon Deodoro Hockey Stadium's florescent lime green and vivid blue turf, Team USA is using the Olympic pitch to challenge the order of global hockey powerhouses and after upsetting 2nd FIH World Ranked Argentina on Saturday, Team USA faced Australia who holds a FIH World Ranking of 3rd. Now with a total of six event points secured from two pool-play victories, the USA is making its presence known in Rio.
"We check off all of our boxes to ensure we're well prepared before each match," said Michelle Vittese (formerly University of Virginia) USWNT forward. "We have this grit, this resilience because we have previously failed, because we've been in unfavorable positions. Regardless of our past or current ranking, regardless of our previous results we play hard and I think the results of that show."
With the starting whistle, Australia came out with high pressure testing USA’s defense early. Staying composed, USA regained possession and quickly transitioned down the field. Led by Melissa Gonzalez (Mohegan Lake, N.Y.) the ball traveled fast into the attacking circle but Team USA was unable to get a shot off. Attacking intent continued for USA as they worked to challenge Australia’s goalkeeper Rachael Lynch and pull her off the goal line for a scramble that went unanswered.
As both teams fought to maintain possession, Australia’s Grace Stewart worked the ball into their attacking circle and ripped a backhand shot on goal but the ball was saved by USA’s goalkeeper Jackie Briggs (formerly University of North Carolina). Play transitioned to the other end of the pitch where Kelsey Kolojejchick (formerly University of North Carolina) found space and got a backhand shot off that was shutdown by an Australian defender’s stick. Australia quickly countered to the other end in the final minute where a flurry of shots were saved by Lauren Crandall (formerly Wake Forest) and Briggs to end the quarter USA 0, Australia 0.
To start the second quarter, Australia wasted no time to barrel into USA’s defensive circle where they secured their first penalty corner in the 16th minute of play. From the top, Australia’s Georgina Morgan’s initial shot was saved by Briggs but lead to another attempt that went high and wide. Team USA’s backfield continued to be tested by Australia with multiple circle entries but withstood the efforts.
"Similar to the Argentina game, today we defended what we needed to defend well," said Craig Parnham, USWNT Head Coach. "I'm really pleased with how we defended all around the pitch today not just in the backfield. The midfielders and forwards did a great job in setting this tone as well. Because of this, we were able to create chances and cause Australia trouble."
In the 24th minute of play, Australia’s Madonna Blyth earned a green card giving USA a player up advantage. Making the most of the situation, Katie Bam (Blue Bell, Pa.) worked the ball into the attacking circle and earned Team USA’s first penalty corner in the 25th minute. From the sly slip at the top of the circle, Vittese's straight sweep was buried into the left corner of the cage to give USA a 1-0 lead.
Quick to regroup, Australia sped down the field to earn their second penalty corner. The drag flick from the top was saved by Briggs’ glove and landed directly on an Australian players foot giving the ball back to Team USA. As time ticked down in the second quarter, Team USA worked fearlessly trying to extend their goal margin. Halftime score stood at USA 1, Australia 0.
Play started static in the first few minutes of the third quarter but in the 36th minute, Australia earned a penalty corner. Team USA requested a video referral on the call but the penalty corner stood. Off the drag flick attempt, Briggs made a diving glove save to block the shot and keep the lead. Just a minute later, Australia’s Jane Claxton earned a green card giving USA a player up on the field. This advantage lead to a great opportunity as Vittese sent a backhand cross from the lower left side of the field that Kolojejchick got a touch on but went just wide. USA continued to be resilient, pressing forward looking to extend the lead.
The aggressive attacking play paid off in the 41st minute when Australia’s Georgie Parker fouled Kasold hard outside the circle resulting in a 10-minute yellow card and upgrading the foul to a penalty corner. The initial sweep by Vittese was blocked by an Australian defender but Bam was on the rebound and sent the ball back across the cage that Caitlin Van Sickle (Wilmington, Del.) finished to make it USA 2, Australia 0.
USA didn’t let up and earned a penalty corner after Australia’s Blyth earned a yellow card. The first attempt by Kasold was denied but not before another penalty corner was awarded, that finished with no result. Being two players down, Australia quickly took possession and worked to the other end of the field. USA’s Briggs was pulled off the right baseline and created an open-net opportunity for Australia’s Kathryn Slattery who finished the chance to cut the goal margin to USA 2, Australia 1. The pressure continued in the final minutes as Briggs came up big and made an extended leg save to close out the quarter.
With much anticipation and excitement from the crowd, the final quarter started with Australia remaining two players down. The Hockeyroos didn’t lag as they quickly countered and plotted a shot low into the circle that went just wide. Staying composed, USA worked forward and earned a penalty corner in the 49th minute but Crandall’s straight shot was redirected off frame by Australia’s post player. Shortly after, Bam made an interception in the middle of the field that led to a 3v1 attack opportunity for Team USA but no result was found.
Australia kept the high intensity pressure up looking to find the equalizer. In the 54th minute a chance came for Australia as Edwina Bone had room to take a low angle shot in the circle but the attempt went wide. Another attempt came shortly after as a backhand shot was launched that again ended with no result. At the other end, Vittese found room and threaded a ball to Katie Reinprecht (Perkasie, Pa.) on the left post that was met by Australia’s goalkeeper Lynch. End line to end line, Australia earned a penalty corner in the 57th minute. The threatening drag flick was sent over the crossbar by Briggs’ glove reaction. Another flurry of shots came from Australia but time wound down to keep the score USA 2, Australia 1.
Kolojejchick reached a milestone achievement, earning her 100th cap during today's match.
"We're in a good place now but it's crucial, very important, to keep focused on the next match ahead," said Parnham.
Next, the USWNT will compete against Japan on Wednesday, August 10 at 4 p.m. EST. The match can be viewed live on the NBC Sports Network. Click here for a full broadcast schedule.