A Re-Cap of the 2020 NITQ's.
As the program has developed & the influx of younger players we have been capable of sending a U-14 team to Nationals. They have been attended Nationals for the past two years, 2018 & 2019. Last year the team went undefeated going 5-0-0 to secure the Pool DD USAFH National Indoor Championship in only our second attempt. With that Championship, we became the first-ever Western PA team to bring home the hardware. This year we are sending a team back to Nationals to try and go back-to-back.
Unlike the U-14 category, teams in the U-16 & U-19 category must participate in a qualifying tournament to reach Nationals. Venom has been sending U-16 & U-19 teams to the Regional National Indoor Tournament Qualifiers since 2012. We have qualified & sent teams to Nationals in the U-16 category in 2014 & 2015. U-19 have qualified only once back in 2017.
4 Pools of 4 teams, 16 total teams playing for 8 NIT Tickets. Round Robin play between the pools starts the tournament. 1st place in each pool gains automatic qualification & then they go into battle with each other for the top 4 places in the tournament. 4th place in each pool is automatically disqualified from Nationals playing in one more playoff game for T-13th place. 2nd & 3rd place teams get matched up together 2's playing 3's in a one-game playoff for Qualification. Each team that qualifies then plays out a bracket to determine 5-8th place. The 4 losers of this round all play each other in a one-game T-9th place seed game. After all NIT Qualifiers have been played over 16 locations during the season there will be 32 9th place teams. Out of those 32 teams, 10 get selected to gain At-Large bids to qualify for Nationals.
This year we sent our one U-16 team up to Ithaca College in NY on Saturday, Jan 11th to attempt to Qualify. The two U-19 teams travelled a day later, split between Louisville, KY & Lock Haven, PA on Sunday the 12th. On Saturday the U-16 Boomslang team started the day with a 2-2 Tie with Hammers. The second game against PA United was dropped 2-1, putting the team in a desperate place in the pool standings with everything on the line in the final pool game of the day. The last pool game was against East Stroudsburg which was a tense back & forth with goals going both ways the final horn went with the score in a deadlock at 2. Meanwhile, on the second court, the two previous opponents were also at a gridlock. With multiple ties, it came down to goal difference. With the performance of our offence, we squeaked out the 2nd seeding in the pool. The one-game playoff started with Venom controlling the ball over serpent rivals Viper III. The game went back & forth but neither team could break either goalkeeper & the game ended scoreless. To break the tie & determine wh would qualify it goes to a one-on-one shootout. 6 seconds for the player to run in & put the ball past the keeper. Neither #92 Jordan Ashbaugh or the opposition GK could be bested until the last shot of the shootout before sudden death. #12 Ava Hersberger took the ball inside the circle, pulling right past the keeper's pads & the sound of the ball rattling inside the back & sideboards told us that the Venom U-16's were going to nationals for the first time since 2015.
On Sunday Venom Pythons went to Louisville & King Cobras took to the court in Lock Haven, PA. In Kentucky, the Pythons started the day on the back foot in the first half against Texas Pride letting in an early two goals. The second half of the game is where they got going scoring one from #109 Kelly Powell, putting more pressure on their defence. As it was looking like they were going to equalize a quick counter-attack by Texas late in the game put the game out of reach as it ended 3-1. The second game was a hard-fought battle with multiple balls being sent just wide of the post. The opposition put in one goal & Pythons couldn't get the touches they needed to score dropping the second game 1-0. The last pool game looked daunting against the ultimate tournament champions IFHCK. The last pool game ended in a 9-0 loss. The Pythons came back on the court for the 13th place game against FHL where they controlled the game netting 2 goals from #99 Sidney Lisak & #37 Delaney Shusko whilst keeping a clean sheet from GK #93 Andie Hardin.
King Cobras kicked off their campaign against an east coast rival Xcalibur FHC. The Cobras went 2-0 up in the first half then netted one more to finish 3-0 for the good. Rivals from Columbus, OH were next as we took the court against Coyotes. After another dominant performance, they left with 4 goals, a hat-trick from #3 Nica Schratz & another clean sheet from GK #96 Gwen Hersberger. The final pool game was against the other undefeated pool team, Reach FHC. Winner takes the qualification, the loser has to win in their next game to reach Nationals. As expected the two high-quality teams played hard but when the final horn went Reach found themselves up 2-1 going to Nationals with Cobras looking to the 3rd place team from Pool B in a one game-winner takes qualification game. Their opposition for this game was east PA club Marojoka FHC. When the game started an early blunder let them through the Venom stronghold and they put one in to go up early. after the first breach, the Cobras pulled together and controlled the rest of the game. With the aid of bad bounces, unlucky touches the offence could only put one goal in even with 2 short corners in the last minutes of the game. The final horn sounded & this team faced an only too familiar situation. This is the third year in a row in which their Nationals fate came down to a Shootout. Our three shooters were #12 Ava Hersberger, #91 Georgia Eson & #3 Nica Schratz, with #96 Gwen Hersberger in between the posts. The first round of 3 shootouts ended in a tie & it went to sudden death. We shot first with A. Hersberger trying to flick over the keeper but the GK batted it out of the air. G. Hersberger came out of her net & stopped the opposition fast in her tracks. Eson came in on the reverse but a patient Marojoka GK kept the ball out. After another save from G. Hersberger we got to the final round of 2SO. Schratz came in making a move but a great save denied Venom again. The final shooter from Marojoka put them hurtling into Nationals giving Cobras their third straight defeat in a shootout preventing them from Qualifying. They picked themselves up from bitter defeat to play for an At-Large big but they needed to win one more game before they could return to Pittsburgh. With new determination after the upset, they showed how strong this team could be defeating New Heights 4-0 giving them a 1 in 3 chance at getting an At-Large bid finishing 9th at Qualifiers.
On Monday, January 27th USA Field Hockey sent out invitation letters to the 10 teams who were selected from 32 9th place teams. Our Pittsburgh Venom King Cobras received one of those invites sending them to Nationals on Feb 21st in Richmond, VA! This is only the second time we as a club have sent a U-19 team to Richmond and ending our 3 year drought.
With King cobras receiving an At-Large qualification is historic for us as this is the first time ever that we have had teams playing at Nationals at all three age groups (U-14, U-16 & U-19). We are moving rapidly on to larger & greater things. This has been the most successful season we have ever experienced & we want to wish good luck to all teams representing the club on the National stage in February.
|Pittsburgh Venom U-14|
|Kayla Joyce (GK)|
|Mia Brinkley (C)|
|Sophia Hershberger (C)|
|Pittsburgh Venom U-16 Boomslang|
|Jordan Ashbaugh (GK)|
|Julia DeFoggia (C)|
|Pittsburgh Venom U-19 King Cobra|
|Gwen Hersberger (GK)|
|Ally Barcaskey (C)|
|Pfeifer Hill (C)|
|Nica Schratz (C)|