SYDNEY, Australia – Blue Devils sophomores Abby Beltrani and Lauren Blazing along with freshman Aileen Johnson returned to Durham after representing the United States U-21 field hockey team in the Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) January 16-20 held at the Sydney Olympic Park, the site of the 2000 Olympic Games. The Blue Devils spent a week with the U-21 national team training and competing in New Zealand before heading to the sixth AYOF which featured over 1,700 of the world’s best young athletes from 30 nations competing in 17 Olympic sports.
In Auckland, New Zealand, the team trained and competed against the U-18 New Zealand National Team. After dropping the first match to New Zealand, 2-1, the United States responded by winning the next three games by a combined score of 15-5.
After the 3-1 start, the team flew to Sydney, where they played in the AYOF, a round-robin tournament against Great Britain, Australia and China. The United States jumped out to an early 2-1 lead in the opening match of the tournament against host Australia, but were unable to maintain the momentum, and were eventually outlasted, 4-2. In the second match, the United States were defeated by Great Britain, 5-0, before facing them again in the Bronze Medal match in which the United State dropped a hard fought match, 2-1.
Upon the Blue Devil’s return to Durham, Blazing, a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., reflected on how the opportunity to compete internationally will affect her play at Duke this spring and in the future.
“As a player, just being able to play 9 games, almost half a season, with a passionate team against great competition has helped develop the way I think and move on the field,” Blazing said. “Lauren Crandall [member of USA National Team] and Madonna Blyth [member of Australia National Team] shared their experiences as two time Olympians, and I drew a lot out of their advice on training and competing that I can translate to my play at Duke this spring.”
Although the three Blue Devils were grateful to have the opportunity to improve their game by playing against outstanding competition, Blazing was even more appreciative of the experience of travelling abroad and meeting new people.
“I probably wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to go to Australia or New Zealand until way later in life, if ever,” Blazing said. “The experience of traveling with a team from different schools and meeting people from halfway around the world who all share the same ambitions and a love of hockey is pretty awesome.”
Beltrani, Johnson and Blazing are no strangers to international competition after missing five games during the fall season while participating in the 2012 Junior Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. The trio helped the United States tally a 5-2 overall record, including a 2-1 victory over Chile in the third-place game to qualify for the 2013 Junior World Cup.