When the 2008 Summer Olympics open in Beijing, China, next week, the United States Women's Field Hockey team will be making its first Olympic appearance since 1996.Out of the 24 members of the U.S. Field Hockey Team, 14 are from Pennsylvania.
The captain, 31-year-old Kate Barber, is a 1994 Unionville High School graduate. While Barber is the veteran of the squad, 19-year-old Katelyn Falgowski is the youngest player on the team.
Falgowski, a Landenberg resident, who was a three-time, first-team All-American selection while playing for St. Mark's High School in Delaware, will be a sophomore at the University of North Carolina in the fall.
As a freshman, Falgowski helped lead the Tar Heels to a perfect 24-0 record and the NCAA Division I National Championship. She's been a member of the U.S. National Women's Field Hockey Team for three years.
After taking a semester off from North Carolina, Falgowski joined the U.S. National Team for training outside of San Diego this past January. Not long after the U.S. qualified for Beijing in April, Falgowski was officially named to the Olympic roster in June.
"It's been a dream year," Falgowski said. "I couldn't have asked for a better freshman season at UNC-to go 24-0 and win the national title, and now to make the Olympics as a 19-year-old.
"Everyone was nervous leading up to the selection of the Olympic team. Nothing was ever a certainty for me. I knew I had played my best regardless of the outcome, but when I found out I had made it, it is pretty difficult to put into words how excited I was. I still don't really think it has sunk in."
Falgowski and the U.S. team are scheduled to fly to Beijing Friday, August 1 for a week of preparation in China prior to the start of the Olympics.
"I think it will definitely hit us all on the plane that we are actually going to the Olympics," said Falgowski. "Opening Ceremonies is going to be one of the highlights. You hear stories about how amazing it is to walk into a stadium like that with the world's best. I'm so excited, and it's such an honor to be able to represent our country."
The U.S. will play its first match on Sunday, August 10 against reigning Pan-Am Games champion Argentina.
"People definitely underestimate us throughout the world. We're an underdog," said Falgowski. "Our team is really thriving on that right now for motivation. We're a very focused group and our goal is to go there and win it, and show the world what we're all about."
Falgowski begin her field hockey career when she attended a clinic in Kemblesville years ago. As a sixth grader, she played for the Strikers in Maryland. She also played on the Avon Grove Middle School team, before enrolling at St. Mark's. At St. Mark's, Falgowski was a three-time, first-team All-American selection. She earned a scholarship to North Carolina, where she was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year this past season while leading the nation in assists with 21.
Falgowski has already played in 48 international matches in her career. Her parents, Ken and Cindy, along with her two sisters, Kerry and Carly, and brother Tim, will be making the trip to Beijing to cheer her and the U.S. team on at the Olympics.
"My family has been to a ton of my games, but they've never been able to go out of the country to see me play," said Falgowski. "So I'm really thrilled I'm going to be able to share this experience with them."
Barber will be making her first Olympic appearance after 11 years with the National Team.
"It's a lifelong dream of mine," she said. "I was a part of the team in 2000 and 2004, when we failed to qualify. I almost said good-bye to hockey after the second time. Fortunately I decided to come back and give it one more shot. It's been a long road with a lot of sacrifices. We're amateur athletes, and we don't get paid to do this. We do it for the love of the game and for our country.
"With Katelyn and I, you have the youngest and the oldest members of the team," added Barber, "and I really can't say enough about Katelyn. She's incredibly mature for her age, and at 19 years old, she's already one of the best players in the world."
Falgowski said, "Hopefully if there's young girls out there watching the Olympics, they'll get a chance to see Kate and I play, and maybe we can inspire them to get interested in the sport of field hockey."