Katelyn Falgowski, Lauren Crandall and Melissa Gonzalez reflect on their hockey journey so far.
When USA took to the field against South Africa for their second Hockey World League Semi-Final match in Valencia, three players on the USA team could have been forgiven for gulping back the tears as the anthems played. With a combined cap total of 600, Lauren Crandall, Kate Falgowski and Melissa Gonzalez are celebrating 250, 200 and 150 caps respectively and, in a story that could have been written by a Hollywood script writer, both Kate and Lauren got on the scoresheet.
"I barely remember my first cap," says Melissa. "It passed in such a whirl. I was just really conscious of the talented players who were all around me and not wanting to let any of them down."
Those people who know Lauren Crandall as the straight-talking and confident captain may be surprised to learn that for the first few matches of her international career she saw herself as "definitely the worst player on the team. I got my butt kicked every time I played, but I loved it. It made me realise just how much I had to learn and the potential I had to get better."
Certainly those close to the defender will also know her not so secret ambition – one she has harboured throughout her playing career: "I want to play in midfield. I've told Craig (Parnham) and everyone knows," At this point she rolls her eyes in mock despair, "but I know its best for the team if I stay in defence."
Lauren's case for a move upfield might have been strengthened by her goal against South Africa.
Kate Falgowski, who missed eight months of action after taking a blow to the head in 2010, says that she is astonished at where the past 10 years have gone. She made her debut in 2005, the same year as Lauren. "If I could say one thing to my younger self, it would be to enjoy the moment. I think it is important as a young player that you know it will be okay. You can get so caught up in worrying that you forget to enjoy things."
Melissa agrees. She won her first international cap in 2010 and says of the experience: "I don't think I knew what I was getting into, and I lacked confidence in the first few matches. Now I have the experience to recognise situations and deal with them. But I still like to keep a fresh outlook on things. Five years on, that is important."
The players have clear, and emotional, memories of their best and worst moments on the pitch. "For me, one of the best moments was being selected for London 2012," says Melissa. "When I was selected, I just hugged everyone and then went and sat outside on the stairs crying. My family were waiting. They could see me, but I didn't give them the 'thumbs up' so they didn't know if I was crying with joy or despair."
Melissa's London joy soon turned to despair however, and both her and Kate cite the 2012 Games as one of their worst moments. "We lost to South Africa, we lost to New Zealand, we just kept going into these matches with high hopes and then being dashed to the ground," says Kate, wincing a little at the memory.
Lauren's personal worst moment was a little earlier in her career. "It was 2010 and we had been preparing for the World Cup qualifier against Korea. Every run I did, every treadmill session, I was focused on beating Korea. I don't think I have ever trained with that sort of focus on one team before."
What happened next still causes Lauren nightmares. "I got a yellow card in the last few minutes of the match and I was off the pitch when Korea scored their third goal to make it 3-1. I cried and cried."
All three players remember their 2011 Pan-American Games win over Argentina as one of the best moments of their hockey careers. "We had worked for it for so long," says Kate. "When we won, I was just so overwhelmed, I get goosebumps even now thinking about it."Back