Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mother Knows Best

Boxborough junior Alexa Sikalis will play for the third time for the US Junior Olympic field hockey team. (Travis Dove for The Boston Globe)

By Sapna Pathak (Globe Correspondent).

ALEXA Sikalis spent a great deal of her youth on a soccer field. Laura Sikalis, as the head field hockey coach at R.J. Grey Junior High School in Acton, was hoping that her daughter would shift her attention to field hockey, a sport that she had grown to love.

So when Alexa picked up a stick for the first time, it was to appease her mother. She played for the seventh grade squad. Now, she is considered one of the best young field hockey players in the state.

On Aug. 12, the Acton-Boxborough junior heads to Ann Arbor, Mich., to play for the US Field Hockey Association's Junior Olympic program. This is the third time Sikalis has been selected for the highly competitive squad, and she is one of 11 Bay Staters on the roster. Once in Ann Arbor, the players are assigned to teams and will square off in pool play.

"I hadn't ever played before, but my mom really wanted me to try it," said the 16-year-old, who helped power Acton-Boxborough to the Division 1 state field hockey championship last fall.

"I played in seventh grade and she was my coach, but it wasn't until the summer before high school I thought, 'This is the sport I want to play, sign me up for it all.' "

"That's when it all took off and I really fell in love with it on my own."

Now Sikalis and her mother hit the turf almost every day; they work on passing, which is the strength of Sikalis's game, and perfecting her fundamentals.

Laura Sikalis, who developed her skills playing for the perennially powerful Watertown High program, attends most of Alexa's games and was the first person A-B head coach Mae Shoemaker approached when Alexa was a freshman.

"I knew Alexa would be a starter her freshman year," said Shoemaker, who guided A-B to a 6-4 win over Shrewsbury in the state final.

"I wanted her mother to know we would take care of Alexa. She is probably the most understated player I've ever coached. You don't know what you're getting until she's out there in the middle of a game. She's a complete player but you'd never know it from seeing or meeting her."

Indeed, the 5-foot-1 center/forward doesn't come off as one of the most dominating players on the field. Her work ethic and dedication to her training, though, are what have allowed her to be a member of the US Field Hockey national team four years running.

USFH coaches select the Junior Olympic roster.

In the fall, Sikalis is a mainstay for A-B. In the winter, she plays for the Cape Ann Coalition, which traveled to Virginia Beach, Va., for the indoor championship in February. This spring, she played high school varsity girls' lacrosse.

"I don't know what makes me love it so much," said Sikalis. "I love being on a team, playing a different kind of sport. I would love to someday play for the Olympic team, but the competition level is so high. Right now, college hockey is on my mind for my next goal, and then we'll see what happens from there."

Perak Put Their Foot Down

COLD SHOULDER: Argentina’s Luciano Miguel (right) pushes aside Malaysia’s S. Selvaraju during their Sultan Azlan Shah hockey match in Ipoh last night. Malaysia lost 0-5. Selvaraju was among those who did not attend Perak state trials.

PERAK will not hand give release letters to players who did not attend their Razak Cup trials last week as they are fed-up of being taken for a ride every year.
The Razak Cup will be held on Aug 2-10 at the Tun Razak Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, and competition rules state that players must represent the state they were born in, and need letters of release if they want to play for another state.
“The Perak HA council decided last year not to give release letters to players who do not even bother to attend our trials, and we will enforce it this year,” said Perak HA deputy president Mohamed Hadi.
The Kuala Lumpur and Negri Sembilan HAs have requested for release letters for several players from Perak, but Hadi said they will not relent this time.
Kuala Lumpur have requested for national player S. Selvaraju, former national goalkeeper Roslan Jamaluddin, and former national players Mohamed Badrulhisham and M. Kaliswaran.
Negri have asked for veteran player Louis Gregory and Mohsin Hamsani.
The Razak Cup will be played on a two-division format, with Singapore the only foreign team.


HISTORY: Forms of hockey were played in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome as well as by the Aztecs. The game was standardised by the British at the end of the 18th century, primarily as a school sport.
It was included in the Olympics as a men’s sport for the first time at the 1908 Games in London. Women’s hockey was added in Moscow in 1980.
The sport’s governing body, the International Hockey Federation, was founded in 1924 and now has 112 members.
The outdoor version of the game was traditionally played on grass but synthetic pitches are now used for top-level competitions.
OLYMPIC QUALIFICATION: Men’s - China, New Zealand, Netherlands, South Korea, Canada, Germany, South Africa, Spain, Belarus, Pakistan, Britain and Australia Women’s - China, Germany, Argentina, Spain, South Africa, Netherlands, Britain, New Zealand, United States, South Korea, Australia and Japan; 2004 CHAMPIONS -- Men: Australia, Women: Germany; VENUE -- Olympic Green Hockey Stadium.

Australia in the mood

NEW DELHI, July 24, 2008 (AFP) - Resurgent Australia hope to defend their gold medal against a strong field in Beijing as men’s hockey celebrates 100 years at the Olympics without former masters India.
The Kookaburras, who won their first Olympic gold at Athens four years ago, reclaimed the number one ranking at Germany’s expense by lifting the elite Champions Trophy in the Netherlands last month.
The victory revived coach Barry Dancer’s men, who had struggled to build on their Olympic success after losing to Germany in the final of both the 2006 World Cup and the 2007 Champions Trophy.
Dancer said the tag of being the world’s number one team would mean little when the 12-nation competition, expected to be one of the closest in the sport’s history, opens in Beijing.
“Teams such as Germany, the Netherlands and Spain are all quality teams who, along with a number of other countries, are all capable of winning gold at Beijing,” he said.
“But in saying that, the Australian team has shown steady signs of improvement throughout the last six months and deserve whatever praise comes their way.”
Field hockey was first played at the Summer Games in London in 1908 with six teams drawn from England, Ireland and Scotland, but it was not until the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928 it became a regular medal sport.

India reigned supreme on grass with six consecutive titles from 1928 to 1956 and two more in Tokyo in 1964 and Moscow in 1980, but have fallen on such hard times that they failed to qualify for Beijing.
The Indians will miss the Olympics for the first time after losing to Great Britain in a qualifying tournament in Chile in April, adding to the misery of a failed Asian Games campaign in Doha in 2006.
“No one wanted to see India out of the Olympics but the reality is that the best 12 nations have qualified for Beijing,” said International Hockey Federation (FIH) chief Els van Breda Vriesman.
“The hockey world will obviously miss India, but I am confident they will come back stronger and ready to take on the world again.”
Germany, meanwhile, are looking to end a 16-year drought and wrest the Olympic gold medal they last won as a unified team in Barcelona in 1992 and, before that, as West Germany in 1972.

The Germans were embarrassingly confined to a bronze medal in Athens four years ago despite being the reigning World Cup champions, but have conjured a remarkable revival since then.
They retained the World Cup title at home in Munchengladbach in 2006 and won the Champions Trophy in Malaysia in 2007, but only managed fifth place in this year’s edition. Germany’s failure to finish among the top three in the European championships, thereby missing out on a direct entry to Beijing, proved to be a minor hiccup in their search for glory.
The Germans won the Olympic qualifier in April without conceding a goal in the tournament that included formidable opponents in hosts Japan and Malaysia.
Germany’s revival has been masterminded by coach Markus Weise, who fashioned the women’s gold medal winning campaign in Athens before taking over the men following Bernhard Peters’ switch to football.
The unpredictable nature of modern men’s hockey came to the fore in May when two non-qualifiers, Argentina and India, contested the Azlan Shah final in Malaysia ahead of four Olympic teams, New Zealand, Pakistan, Canada and Belgium.
In the women’s field, reigning world champions the Netherlands hope to avenge their Athens Olympic final defeat to Germany despite a shock third-place finish in the Champions Trophy in May.