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Olympic Flashbacks: Women’s Field Hockey Through the Years

Content Courtesy of NFHCA

Throughout its history, the U.S. Women’s National Team has made quite an impact on the world stage, especially through the Olympics. From compelling individual triumphs to team victories, we’re revisiting some of the most exciting moments for Team USA as we gear up for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

While women’s field hockey has been a popular pastime for over a century in the U.S., the pathway to the Olympics was less swift. Field hockey made its debut at the London 1908 Olympic Games, but only as a men’s sport (it was believed to be too dangerous for women at the time). That, of course, did not stop the game from becoming popular among female athletes. Instead, these competitors played in collegiate and national leagues until they were finally able to take on the world’s biggest stage at the Olympics.

Women’s field hockey finally became an Olympic event during the 1980 Games in Moscow. However, global tensions were running high due to the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Determining that involvement in the Moscow-hosted Games would be a passive endorsement of those actions, U.S. President Jimmy Carter was the first to declare a boycott of the Games. Ultimately, over sixty countries withdrew their participation in 1980.

It was during the 1984 Games in Los Angeles that Team USA finally got to make a statement. The competition was fierce as the round-robin stage ended with several teams garnering equal points. The United States battled Australia in a penalty shootout, where Team USA won 10-5, giving them the bronze and their first Olympic medal. Beth Anders, Team USA captain and former long-standing coach at Old Dominion University, led scoring among all players with eight goals and set a record for most goals scored by an individual during Olympic competition. That record remains unbroken to this day.

Along with Anders, other members of the ’84 bronze medalist team developed into coaching legends and NFHCA Hall of Fame coaching members.  Karen Shelton of the University of North Carolina went on to lead the Tarheels to 10 NCAA National Championships as the winningest coach in NCAA Field Hockey history over a 42-year tenure. Char Morett-Curtiss went on to lead Penn State University to thirty NCAA tournament appearances with multiple conference titles over a 36-year tenure there and a three-year head coaching stint at Boston College prior. Beth Beglin, after again competing in the 1988 Olympic Games, went on to develop the University of Iowa’s program into a powerhouse over an eleven-year coaching stint with the Hawkeyes. Gina Buggy guided the Episcopal Academy to an incredible 82-winning percentage in over 570 games across 34 years. These coaching legends, along with others of their era, helped elevate the U.S. game, developing hundreds of elite field hockey athletes over the years.

The U.S. Women’s National Team has continued to make an impact on Olympic play, participating in the Atlanta 1996, Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016 Games. Each of these appearances showcased the teams’ resilience during pool play, and individual stars have made a name for themselves during the Olympics as Team USA evolved over the years.

One of the highlights from the 2008 Games in Beijing was the offense and determination of Keli Smith Puzo, who went on to score two goals including one against favorite Argentina. The versatile striker started her career playing for the University of Maryland Terrapins and went on to garner over 179 caps. These included showings at several Pan American Games including a second-place finish with the 2007 team. Also standing out was Angela Loy’s performance as the leading scorer for the United States with four total goals. The multi-sport athlete served as a forward during her time both with Old Dominion University and Team USA and totaled 89 international caps during her career.

Defender Lauren Crandall represented the United States during three Olympic Games (2008, 2012, and 2016) and served as team captain twice. This included leading the team into the 2016 Rio Games with their highest qualifying ranking ever at fifth. The Wake Forest University graduate, where she won NCAA Championships in both 2003 and 2004, made a major impression on global field hockey with eleven medals in the world championships and 279 international caps in her playing career.

A decorated and versatile defender/midfielder, Rachel Dawson appeared in three Olympic Games for the United States (2008, 2012, 2016). The University of North Carolina graduate hailing from Berlin, New Jersey, amassed 298 caps in her international career and earned induction into the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame in 2022.

Goalkeepers have also played a pivotal role in Team USA’s success over the years. Gwen Cheeseman of West Chester State College at the time, was a member of the 1984 bronze medal team and went on to receive the Congressional Goal Medal later in her career. Amy Tran-Swensen, graduate of the storied University of North Carolina, also had a profound career, achieving 163 caps as a goalkeeper and participating in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. She was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament for the Women’s Hockey World Cup as well as a World Hockey All-Star in 2006.

In more recent history, the 2016 Team USA achieved Olympic competition victory over number two ranked Argentina and number three ranked Australia, upsetting the outcomes for both international favorites. The team also triumphed over India with a commanding 3-0 score, a win that demonstrated their ability to take on competition with a proven track record at the Games. Ultimately, Team USA went on to earn a fifth-place finish.

Of course, Team USA’s achievements have not been limited to the Olympics. Throughout history, the team has made an impact on a variety of international competitions. The team took the silver with a winning streak in the Pan American Cup in 2001, 2004, 2009, and 2013. They also won gold in the Pan American Games in 2011 and 2015 while also placing in the top three every year from 1987 through 2019.

After sitting out the 2020 Tokyo Games, Team USA is back and ready to make a big impression in Paris. While none of the players training for the 2024 Games have ever competed in an Olympics, many have international experience and are ready to catch the competition by surprise. This includes midfielder Amanda Golini, former standout at Lafayette College of Randolph, NJ, who has 150 caps and six total medals including a silver from the 2023 Pan American Games and a gold from the 2017 World League Semifinals.

In fact, the USA already enthralled fans during the recent qualifiers where they stormed their way to the finals and shocked fans with an upset over Japan. Midfielder/defender Ashley Hoffman, University of North Carolina, of Mohnton, PA and forward/midfielder Abby Tamer, University of Michigan of Dexter Michigan, both scored goals for the United States, who played solid defense in front of goaltender Kelsey Bing, Stanford University, of Houston, TX. Finishing with the silver medal in the 2024 FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers in Ranchi, India earned Team USA a ticket to the Paris 2024 Games.

With Paris on the horizon, there’s a lot for fans to be excited about. Not only is Team USA flush with young, vibrant talent, but the team has fresh leadership in place for its next Olympic foray. Coach David Passmore, who took over the Women’s National Team in 2022, not only has a robust portfolio of direct coaching experience but also a unique approach to coaching science and talent development. This methodology, coupled with the momentum the team is carrying with them into the 2024 Olympics, promises to bring great opportunity for players and fans alike.  Follow the countdown with us.

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