Field hockey event a draw for aspiring Olympians
Field hockey event a draw for aspiring Olympians

By Lee Tolliver
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 24, 2012

VIRGINIA BEACH

Dodi Allocca sensed despondency in the crowd.

Team USA was down 1-0 to the world's second-ranked field hockey team, and more than 3,000 fans at the National Training Center had gone quiet in front of a national television audience.

So the Richmond 16-year-old did what any self-respecting patriot would do to help her country's team - she took off frantically down a path between the field and bleachers waving the flag for all her worth.

And it worked.

"USA... USA... USA," the crowd responded loudly.

Team USA also responded, tying the score a few minutes later en route to a 2-2 draw against Argentina in the fourth of four friendlies between teams that will meet in a few weeks in pool play at the Olympic Games in London.

Each team won one game, and there were two ties - providing a big shot in the arm for the United States.

"This really is a big day," said Allocca, who was in Virginia Beach for USA Field Hockey's Futures Program as a member of Team Rio de Janiero. "I went to the game at U.Va., too."

Sporting all things red, white and blue, Allocca blended in nicely with the nearly 800 other Futures Program players who started competition last week and will continue into next week - sandwiching what likely was the biggest field hockey event ever in the United States.

"When I think of great field hockey, I think of Argentina," said the Richmond Collegiate standout. "USA, too.

"This is such a big help for all of us here participating in Futures. This is the best hockey in the world."

Allocca said she held no Olympic dreams. But somewhere in the audience, there undoubtedly was a girl or two who did.

"I think this will help make the sport more popular and maybe make more girls strive to reach this level," said Kayla Devlin, a 17-year-old from Annapolis, Md., who sported American flags painted on her cheeks. "All of us (in Futures) being able to watch them - the game at a higher pace just before the Olympics - who wouldn't want to try and achieve that."

Saturday's event was a celebration of field hockey in the United States, with an avenue of vendors selling everything from uniforms, to sticks, to shoes and sunglasses. Fans sported pro-USA signs and waved flags. Faces were painted, and the nation's colors were everywhere.

And on a blazing and humid afternoon, it also was a celebration of women's sports. The day marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a push for equality between men's and women's amateur athletics.

But Saturday's match mostly was about hockey.

"This is awesome," said Tracey Fuchs, a two-time Olympian and one of the sport's most recognizable figures in the United States. "To see this crowd in a great field hockey area watching two of the best teams in the world playing on national television... this is really nice for our sport to get some good recognition."

One particular member of Team USA was especially proud of the recognition the afternoon brought.

"To be able to do this in front of my hometown crowd is awesome," said Caroline Nichols, a two-time Olympian who played at Salem High School in Virginia Beach and at Old Dominion. "We'll play in front of bigger crowds at the Olympics, but they won't be cheering for us like this one.

"When they're cheering your name because you are the local girl, well... it's just really special for me."

And a special day for field hockey.

Lee Tolliver, 757-222-5844, lee.tolliver@pilotonline.com

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