The U.S. O-40 Women’s Indoor Masters Team – with six Phila-area players and staff – wrapped up the inaugural International Masters Hockey Association (IMHA) Masters Indoor World Cup in Krefeld, Germany last week.
Three Masters with local connections were once part of the U.S. Women’s National Indoor Team, participating in numerous tours and Indoor Pan American Championships throughout their careers. Nicky Hitchens from 2004 to 2005, Maria Keesling (Downingtown) from 2004 to 2008 and 2012 to 2015, and Denise Zelenak, captain from 2004 to 2010 and head coach from 2012 to 2014. All three also wore the Red, White and Blue in two Masters Outdoor World Cups in Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2014) and Canberra, Australia (2016). Zelenak and Hitchens are also the head and associate head coaches respectively at Drexel University.
“When we walk on the court we are the same strong, committed, competitive, proud athletes that we always were and the pride we have representing our country defies age.”
Danice Deckard, the assistant coach at Drexel, served as the Head of Video Analysis for the recent World Cup. But the Drexel connections don’t stop there. Former All-CAA and All-Region honorees, Lauren Hibshman and Jenna Knouse, both 2015 graduates, had key roles; Knouse served as the manager and Hibshman as the head coach. Both are former U.S. Women’s National Indoor Team players, with Hibshman earning a bronze medal at the 2014 Indoor Pan American Games.
“Denise and Nicky afforded me my collegiate hockey career. They coach their Drexel Dragons from a place of true caring. I wanted to honor that legacy and make them proud,” shared Hibshman. “I realized they taught me almost everything I know about hockey so it was funny when I would use similar drills and fitness tests at practice. The tables were certainly turned; fortunately, I wasn’t the one running the fitness tests this time.”
Team USA faced stiff competition from England, Germany, Italy and Sweden over the 4-day tournament. Their third match, versus Italy, was the tightest and ended in a 1-0 loss despite Team USA holding their opponent to no goals in regulation time.
“European hockey is American football. It’s not a game. It’s a lifestyle. The Dutch and Germans never stop playing. They’re always improving, even into middle age. So, the competition was tough. But, I wouldn’t have wanted it another way,” said Coach Hibshman. “I found that most teams relied on their skills – their dribbling, passing, and shooting were mesmerizing. Conversely, Team USA relied on its intangibles – their resilience and camaraderie was unparalleled. Skills can be taught; intangibles either are or they aren’t. I’m proud that Team USA never gave up and always looked forward.”
Zelank noted the team’s improvement over the short period of time training together and despite the lack of opportunities in the USA to continue to practice and play at a high level, compared to the established club system in Europe. “There was a strong showing of countries for the first Masters Indoor World Cup — very competitive with highly skilled teams and developed strategies. We did some great things while there, improving every game and hopefully building a solid foundation for future teams to build on.”
“Our diversity was a strength and the coaching experience of the squad,” added Hitchens. “Our young staff prepared us well for the tournament by sharing skill and strategy videos through the months leading up to the tournament. We made a lot of progress and improvements in a very short time.”
The take-away for the entire squad was one of pride and hopes for continued opportunities and success for the O-40 Women’s Indoor Masters Team.
“Walking in to the main court and seeing the flags of all of the countries represented at the tournament is pretty special and nothing compares to putting on the uniform for the first lineup with the entire team,” said Hitchens.
After coaching at an international tournament, Hibshman noted her renewed realization of the potential that sports have to bring people together. “It was very unique to see that above the subtle cultural differences, we are all very much the same.”
For Zelenak, representing her county at the Master’s level was also empowering and made a bold statement. “When we walk on the court we are the same strong, committed, competitive, proud athletes that we always were and the pride we have representing our country defies age.”
Please credit: Doug Hetzler of RedJaxx Media
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