Gold Standard: AU field hockey coach leads U.S. women's national team to victory
When the United States women’s field hockey team triumphed in the gold medal match of the Pan American Games, a familiar AU face was among the victors. AU field hockey coach Steve Jennings led Team USA to six consecutive victories during the tournament in Toronto, including a 2-1 defeat of Argentina in the final match on July 24. The gold medal was the second consecutive first-place finish for Team USA at the Pan American Games.
“The Pan American Games were a culmination of our summer, and it was fantastic to see the team come through in the final against a very talented Argentine team,” Jennings said.
The victory guarantees the American women a place in next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio and is another positive building block following their fourth place finish at last summer’s World Cup in the Netherlands. Jennings said the victory will give the U.S team more confidence against the upper-tier competitors and motivation to land on the podium in Rio.
Jennings, who has been involved in USA field hockey since his days as the vice-captain of the Olympic team in 1996, began conversations with Team USA head coach Craig Parnham about a role in the Pan American Games in November 2014.
“I did a number of events [with the team] starting with the Argentinian Series held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” Jennings said. “All those events led to the Pan Am Games in July. It’s always a special thrill to represent the stars and stripes and then to be such a dynamic group of people was a bonus, indeed.”
Jennings previously served as an assistant coach at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the 2007 Pan American Games and World Cups in 2002 and 2006. Jennings also worked as the head coach of the U.S. Junior National Team starting in 2012 before being asked to manage the senior team at the Pan American Games. He believes his previous experiences in international tournaments helped him learn how to succeed in tense situations.
“Being able to help summon elite performances at critical moments is a really important detail, and I think previous tournaments helped me out with that,” Jennings said. “You fall back on helping the group just be comfortable in the big moments and helping them to achieve their best.”
The 16 players chosen to represent the United States in Toronto were selected by USA Field Hockey coaches from the national team training squad. They were chosen based on performances in daily practices and international tournaments.
“It’s a very grueling process because it is not just a one-day tryout or a one-week tryout, it’s really a daily tryout over the course of many, many months and many years,” Jennings said.
The team travelled to Toronto, the site of the Pan American Games and triumphed in each of its six matches played over a span of 12 days, outscoring their opponents 39-1 in the tournament. In the final, the Americans defeated Argentina, the reigning Olympic silver medalists and the third-ranked team in the world. Jennings said familiarity with Pan American rivals was key to Team USA’s success.
“We knew what we needed to do going in,” Jennings said, “And we were able to be much more simplified going into the final, and I think that always helps the team feel very confident when you know the opponent, you’ve put the work in, you know what’s going to be required, and you just have to focus on going out there and having a great performance.”
For Jennings, the victory over the Argentines came at a particularly special time.
“It felt cool because the gold medal game happened on my birthday,” Jennings said. “That was certainly the best birthday present I ever had.”
Jennings, an inductee into both the National Field Hockey Coaches Association and the USA Field Hockey Halls of Fame, said the gold medal is one of his proudest achievements.
“It’s right up there with the best memories I’ve had in sport as a player or a coach.”