Where Stars Start to Shine
by USA Field Hockey
The men’s and women’s Junior Pan American Championships will be bursting into life on August 21 in Santiago, Chile, as seven men’s and six women’s teams contest the title and qualification for the Junior World Cups, which take place in India (men) and South Africa (women) at the end of 2021.
These two events are always hotly contested and have provided a launch pad for many stars of the senior international scene. This edition will be the 12th time the men have contested the title, while for the women, this is ninth time the event has been held.
The numbers of entrants are down slightly on recent years, with the 2005 edition attracting 11 entries in the men’s competition and 12 in the women’s and 2012 editions attracting 13 men’s teams and 11 women’s teams.
Lauren Moyer of the U.S. Women's National Team, whose own junior career started in 2016, with the Pan American Junior Championships, said: “The Junior Pan American Championships is a fantastic tournament for our younger athletes to get on the international stage and compete.
“We have a ton of incredible talent coming up the USA pipeline and currently rostered on the Women’s National Team so for them to have the opportunity to all get together and learn how each other play, build connection and play the game at a higher level is an important step in the transition to the game at the senior level.
“A lot of these girls competing in August will be our future teammates so excited to see how they perform and wishing them all the best of luck - cheering you on from the States.”
It is definitely the platform from which huge talents emerges. In the final of 2012, a 20-year-old Gonzalo Peillat caught the eye when he calmly dispatched a drag flick past Kevin Pereira in the Canada goal to bring the scores level, before his Argentinian team went onto win 3-2. Peillat was top scorer and Player of the Tournament – and eight years later he was top goal scorer again on the biggest stage as his penalty corner goals helped his side win the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
At the same 2012 Junior Pan American Championships, while their role models Carla Rebecchi, Luciana Aymar and Delfina Merino were winning silver at the London 2012 Olympic Games, sisters Florencia and Agustina Habif, along with Agustina Albertarrio were helping guide Argentina to complete a double victory against Canada. Those same stars have all become major players for the Argentina senior team, with Albertarrio winning silver at the recent Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Competing in the men’s competition in Santiago, Chile, will be Argentina, USA and Trinidad and Tobago in Pool A, with Pool B comprising teams from Brazil, Canada, Chile and Mexico.
Argentina, who are coached by Olympic gold medalist from 2016, Lucas Rey, are ranked at number one for the event. Their strongest challenge is likely to come from Canada and Chile, ranked two and three respectively, although USA indoor and outdoor national team player Pat Harris will be using all his experience as Head Coach to the USA team.
The women’s competition sees Argentina, Canada and Uruguay competing in Pool A, with Chile, Trinidad and Tobago and USA vying for the honors in Pool B.
Like the men’s team, Argentina is ranked number one but in USA and Chile in particular, they face tough competition for top spot. One player who already has a wealth of knowledge about playing top level hockey is Valentina Raposo, who was a star of the Argentina senior team at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
History is on the side of Argentina in both the men’s and women’s competitions. The men have not been beaten to the title since the competition began in 1978. Canada and Chile have both finished second on four occasions, with Cuba the other team to appear in the final in 1996 and 1988.
Argentina women have been beaten just once, in 2008. On that occasion USA won gold, beating Chile in the final. Argentina overcame the challenge of Mexico to win the bronze medal.
The Leonas’ most recent victory in 2016 saw the team win 6-0 against USA. Player of the tournament and top goal scorer was Maria Granatto, who was voted FIH Rising Star in 2016 and 2017. Of the victorious Argentina team on that occasion, seven players, including Granatto, recently represented Argentina as they won silver at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
One of the junior players who have now made their way into the senior team is Agustina Gorrzelany, scorer of four goals at the Tokyo Games, including in the final against Netherlands. Speaking of the Junior Pan Am Championships, she said: “In my opinion, the junior stage is a very important part of anyone’s hockey career. Firstly, is an amazing way to introduce you to the incredible world of international competition and, secondly, because it is where you begin as a younger athlete and learn new things that will endure for the rest of your career.
“And of course, you can enjoy it the way younger people do, without putting that much pressure on yourself. You can compete with that innocence that junior players have. That freedom and lack of pressure means they have the capacity to surprise us each time we watch them play.”
This year’s event will be very different due to the continuing restrictions of the pandemic. Head coach to Trinidad and Tobago, Darren Cowie explained what it means for his team’s preparations: “We are just in the last phase of our local-based preparations because when we do reach Chile, we will have to quarantine for one or two days. Then once we come out of quarantine, we are expected to play one or two practice matches against Canada and Brazil before tournament play and I will consider that to be our last phase of preparations for our tournament matches.
“We also have some testing with regards to fitness to make sure that everybody is in good physical condition and ready and rearing to go and most importantly our PCR Test for the coronavirus to make sure that everybody gets a negative reading.”
Looking ahead to the tournament, Cowie noted that Argentina is the powerhouse in the region, so he is targeting his team’s clash with the USA for the second spot in their pool to book a spot in the semifinals and the potential to qualify for the Junior World Cup.
Previous Pan American Junior Championships provide a roll-call of honor for international stars and each edition is a spring board for stars of the future. The competition gets underway with that clash between Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago in the men’s event, while the curtain raiser for the women’s event is a battle between the South American neighbors, Argentina and Uruguay.