'A Little Bit Smarter': Four Quakertown Women on U.S. Masters Field Hockey Teams Getting Better as They Get Older
by Tim Shoemaker
Sisters Jane Cygan and Jeanne McLaughlin did not play high school field hockey together at Quakertown High School because of their age difference. Born five years apart, Cygan graduated from Quakertown in 1977 and McLaughlin in 1982.
Time corrected that problem.
They have played in the popular and competitive Philadelphia Field Hockey Association and other club teams for years, staying in shape as they grew older.
Cygan and McLaughlin are among four Quakertown residents playing for the U.S. Masters field hockey teams. Diane Bracalante Molinaro, a 1988 Olympian and one of the committee members, and Toni Arner, a teacher and coach in Upper Perkiomen School District, are also on the rosters.
McLaughlin, Molinaro and Arner are on the U.S. Masters Over-55 training roster. Cygan is on the Over-60, or Grand Masters, squad.
The U.S. Masters field hockey program was created about 10 years ago to help grow the sport nationally. While sports are often grown from the youth level, they can also improve from the other direction.
The countries that dominate the sport worldwide have competitive national teams at every age. But the U.S. has an opportunity problem in the sport, according to Molinaro and others.
Arner, Cygan, McLaughlin and Molinaro have taken their opportunity and run with it, hockey stick in hand.
Cygan played with the Grand Masters team that competed in the European Cup in June 2019 in Antwerp, Belgium. The U.S. did well there, with a win and two ties in its three games. According to the local masters, wearing their country’s colors is a thrill.
“It was pretty incredible,” Cygan said. “I never thought I would be doing that.”
A bookkeeper and treasurer of the Pancreatic Cancer Cure Foundation, Cygan was planning on going to South Africa for another tournament in 2020, but that was canceled due to the pandemic. She played collegiately at Lock Haven and has joined club teams ever since.
“Every year I say ‘one more year,’ " Cygan said. “I can’t run as fast as I used to, but if you stay active, as you get older, you learn to play a little smarter. … It’s pretty cool that we get to play.”
McLaughlin and her husband own a physical therapy business. She played at West Chester University and with club teams. A field hockey and lacrosse official, she is on the U.S. Over-55 roster, but has not seen action yet representing the U.S.
“It’s fun,” McLaughlin said. “I’m glad we’re healthy enough and strong enough. It helps me stay in shape. … We came from an athletic family. We became runners. We exercise regularly. That enables us to play. If you’re not active, it’s hard to play.”
Molinaro, now retired, is a three-time NCAA champion at Old Dominion University, and serves on several boards. She also participates in various volunteer activities.
“[USA Field] Hockey wants to grow the sport across all different age groups,” she said. “One of the things that’s a problem is that people, unfortunately, stop playing hockey after they graduate from college. That takes a lot of talent away from actual club play. There are adult club leagues in this country - some are strong and some are not so strong.
“[USA Field] Hockey has this goal of saying that you don’t stop playing hockey when you’re 22, 23 years old. There are avenues that allow you to play competitively for however long you want to play, following more of an international model. Other countries have a vibrant adult hockey community.”
Molinaro stayed active by rock climbing nationally and around the world. The Masters program gave her an opportunity to sharpen her field hockey skills. She serves on the committee that oversees the several tiers of teams - 35-over through 60-over - that began in 2014 after a group of former players, Molinaro included, conceived the idea of a U.S. team.
What Father Time has stolen in athletic ability has been replaced with savvy.
“I can’t run as fast, so that’s part of it,” Molinaro said. “I did not play competitively for more than 20 years. The physical part of it, in training, you have to be smarter. … I can’t do the things that I used to do. So I have to adapt to the different types of movement. In some ways, I’m playing a smarter brand of hockey.
“I love that I don’t have any physical issues: pulled muscles, torn muscles, aching knees. I don’t have any of that to deal with, so that’s a positive.”
Arner is representative of the type of player that [USA] Field Hockey targets. She teaches fifth grade students and coaches field hockey in Upper Perkiomen School District and played at Kutztown University in her 30s when she was working on her teaching certification.
She is on the Over-55 roster in the Masters program and competed for the U.S. in Australia in 2016.
“It’s just fantastic playing at this age,” she said. “Honestly, I feel that I’m a better player now than when I was younger. I play smarter. I have learned so much more, some of it by watching my own daughters play hockey. I coach hockey. I’ve met some amazing women on the Masters team. They’re positive go-getters and role models. Playing at this age is wonderful. I don’t plan to stop playing any time soon.”
Former Moravian College assistant Phil Danaher played on the Men’s Masters team in its early years a decade ago. Former Lehighton coach and Athletics Director Shawn Hindy is currently on the Men’s Over-40 roster.
The Women’s programs have gone from two teams to six - Over-35 to Over-60 - and from losing almost every time to some medals in 2018. Some Olympians who were not part of the original Masters team caught wind of the project and joined in succeeding years. The numbers, and talent, grew.
“That’s exciting,” Molinaro said. “We’re now able to compete and place very well.”
The hope is not only to grow the game for the older players, but for all players.
“The goal for [USA] Field Hockey is to keep lifetime engagement, a term that they use across all the different age groups,” Molinaro said. “Whether you’re playing in a U12 league, or playing in college or playing as Masters. They want to see a lifetime of engagement. The hockey community is a fun group of people. It’s nice to see.”
Tim Shoemaker is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.