Lured by Olympic gold, Julie Staver back in field hockey as US captain

Another gold medal in 1984 for the United States hockey team? It's possible, but this time it may be won on the field rather than on the ice. The US women's field hockey team, which is currently ranked third in the world, is one of the top contenders for the gold in '84.

One of the keys to the team's success is midfielder Julie Staver. She has been a member of the US team for nine years, and captain of the squad since 1978 .

Julie graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 with a degree in anthropology, and is a 1982 graduate of Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine. She retired from the sport last year in order to finish her studies and devote full time to working as a veterinarian. But she couldn't stay away from field hockey and made the decision to return to the sport to ''go for the gold.''

Much of the success of the US team depends upon her leadership and style of play. Her strengths lie primarily in her stick work and her aggressiveness, plus she is extremely quick and is able to control the midfield area better than most players. She is thought to be one of the best passers in the game, and much of the team strategy is designed around her.

But Julie is not only a leader on the playing field. According to coach Vonnie Gros, the national team coach, ''Julie has the rare ability to lead both on and off the field. When a teammate needs help, she gives of herself and of her time, and doesn't let it hurt her play.''

In what was billed as a preview to the '84 Olympics, the world's top four teams competed in the American Cup tournament, held at Boston University in October. Holland, Australia, the US, and New Zealand, ranked first through fourth, respectively, participated and finished the tournament in that order.

Says Julie, ''Our main goal as a team is to win the gold in the 1984 Olympics , but we have many short-term goals to accomplish first. We have a lot of tournaments coming up which will be important in our development, because we're facing the best teams.''

These tournaments are all part of an extensive schedule for the US team, designed to provide valuable international competitive experience between now and 1984.

Unlike many Europeans, who start the sport at a very young age, Julie was typical of many Americans in that she didn't begin playing until high school.

''I had very good coaching in high school,'' she says, ''and then I went to the University of Pennsylvania. Our college team wasn't great, but the competition in the area was tough.''

She captained the 1980 Olympic squad, which never competed because of the US boycott of the Moscow Games. As the host country in 1984, the US automatically qualifies a team for the six-team field in Los Angeles.

So that the Americans can practice together year round, they now reside in the Philadelphia area. ''Most of us have part-time jobs in firms or businesses in the area,'' says Julie. ''We train a few weeks at a time, take a break, and then come back and gear up for big tournaments. In this way we don't become totally inundated in the sport.''

Improvement has come at a fast pace. In 1976, Gros devised a plan to develop a world class team. Three years later, in an event in Vancouver, the team moved from 11th to 3rd in the world rankings and qualified for the 1980 summer Games, the first to include women's field hockey.

''We've consistently been ranked around third in the world,'' notes Julie, ''but we're a lot better than we were in 1979. I can see signs that many things are coming together for us.''

''Certainly 1980 was a difficult year for those of us going to the Olympics, '' she adds. ''There was nothing we could do about it. As an athlete you figure you can improve your situation by training harder or pushing yourself more. But this was totally out of our hands.''

With the disappointment of the 1980 Olympics behind them now, the American players look forward to 1984. ''At this point I'd have to say that our chances (for a gold medal) are good,'' says Staver, ''but there's still plenty of time between now and 1984.''

European teams may be at somewhat of an advantage because they have had successful junior hockey programs for years, something which the US has just recently begun.

According to Julie, though, hockey in the States is slowly catching up to hockey in Europe, both in popularity and in skill level. Some European teams, though, may have better stick skills than the Americans, (mainly due to the fact that they have played the game longer), but the Americans seem to have made up for that with sharp passing and superb conditioning.

''We do some things better than other teams we've faced, but we can learn a lot by observing our opponents,'' adds Julie. ''It's important to have a style of our own, though. If you are out to copy other teams, you're always a step behind. We try to set our own style, and then try to modify it now and then, to see if we can add a new twist.''

Although there is little recognition to be gained playing field hockey and nothing in the way of career opporutnities outside coaching the sport, Julie considers her participation a rewarding experience. ''We know that playing hockey is not going to be a full-time job for any of us. We play purely for our own satisfaction and achievement,'' she explains.''When we're finished playing, we know that we have to have something else to do. That's just being realistic. But for now, working towards our goal is very satisfying.''

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