RIO DE JANEIRO — Kelsey Kolojejchick got a cap to remember, and the United States got another women’s field hockey win.
Kolojejchick, a former Wyoming Seminary star from Larksville, made her 100th career international appearance — known as a cap — as Team USA won its second straight game against a top-ranked team in the Rio Olympics by beating beating No. 3 Australia, 2-1 Monday at the Rio Olympics.
“I was filled with pride, knowing it was her 100th cap happening during the Olympic Games,” Kelsey’s mom, Doreen Kolojejchick, who attended the game in Rio, said in an email. “It doesn’t get any bigger than this, but with that comes nervousness until the final whistle. When the final whistle blew, it brought such joy knowing we won over a quality opponent.”
Kolojejchick got her second start of the Olympics, while her former Wyoming Seminary High School teammate, Kat Sharkey from Moosic, picked up her first of the Games.
Michelle Vittese and Caitlin van Sickle scored for the Americans, who defeated No. 2 Argentina 2-1 in their Olympic opener on Saturday.
United States goalie Jackie Briggs had six saves and had four saves on the four penalty corners she faced. The crowd chanted, “Jackie! Jackie!” after the match.
Once again, the United States got off to a slow start.
And again, the Americans regained their composure and knocked off a world power.
The Americans said their ability to bounce back has been consistent.
“I think that’s just kind of our DNA,” Van Sickle said. “We don’t have the greatest start. We’re always going to keep coming and keep coming after you.”
The fifth-ranked Americans, who lead Pool B with six points, moved closer to qualifying for the quarterfinals. The top four teams in each six-team pool advance. The United States has the maximum point total two games into pool play and already has played the two highest-ranked teams. The Americans say that won’t affect their focus as they prepare to play Japan on Wednesday.
“We literally focus on just one game at a time,” Van Sickle said. “We don’t necessarily look at the draw. You’ve got to play every team in your pool, so it doesn’t really matter.”
The Americans haven’t medaled since 1984, and Argentina and Australia have been good for years while the United States is an emerging program. But the United States beat Australia for third place at the Champions Trophy event in June, fueling the team’s confidence heading into the Rio de Janeiro Games.
“It’s not the underdog, it’s not whatever, it’s just us, united as strong and resilient and gritty,” Vittese said.
The Americans dealt a major blow to Australia. The Hockeyroos dropped their opener to Britain 2-1 on Saturday and now have zero points with three pool play matches remaining. They play India next.
“It’s managing the distractions in the (Olympic) Village, managing the distractions of the other results going on in the competition,” Australia’s Georgie Parker said. “We’re going to be scouting really hard against India preparing as well as we can, making sure we do that right recovery, and everything will go smoothly from there, we hope.”
The United States split two games with India during the Rio Send-Off Seriesat the USA Training Center Spooky Nook in Manheim just prior to the start of the Olympics, when Sharkey scored the first goal and Kolojejchick had the winner off a feed from Sharkey in a series-opening 3-2 victory.
This second game in Rio was especially rough for Australia because it was hit with two yellow cards and a green card in the third period alone, forcing the Hockeyroos to play short-handed.
“We are a really physical side and we’re very aggressive in going for the ball, so sometimes you do have some casualties along the way,” Parker said. “I guess it’s about managing to get the right balance of being aggressive at the ball with playing within the rules.”
The United States spent the early part of the match defending its goal as the aggressive Australian attack put the Americans on their heels. Briggs stopped four shots in the first period, and the match remained scoreless.
Vittese scored on a penalty corner to put the United States up 1-0 in the second period. The Americans went up 2-0 in the third period when van Sickle scored on a penalty corner. The score came off a beautiful re-direct from Kolojejchick, who registered field hockey’s version of an assist on the play as a way to celebrate her milestone game.
“Michelle Vittese sent a rocket shot across the front of the net and I was amazed that Kelsey was able to pluck it out of the air and redirect it to Caitlin Van Sickle to finish,” Doreen Kolojejchick emailed. “I continue to be so proud of her (Kelsey’s) play and her skills and I am thankful she contributed to this huge win especially during her milestone game. It was icing on the cake.”
There was a video referral because the pass near the goal was high, but it was not considered and the goal was upheld.
There was also a scare.
Kelsey Kolojejchick went down hard after a violent collision with the Australian goalie late in the fourth quarter, causing some concern in the stands before she bounced back up.
“I was very concerned when I saw Kelsey go down,” Doreen Kolojejchick said in the email. “I said a prayer and hoped for the best. I knew no matter the injury it would not stop her from further play. Especially at the Olympics! That’s the way she has always been and I know she will not let an injury keep her from attaining her goal/I was relieved when she got up and played on. She seemed OK, whichput my mind at ease.”
Australia came back less than two minutes after Kolojejchick’s re-direct with a goal by Kathryn Slattery.
The Hockeyroos got another penalty corner with two minutes remaining in the fourth period, but Briggs deflected a shot high.
“We just took it moment by moment,” Briggs said, “tried to stay in the moment and not think about, ‘Oh, there’s only so much time left and the score.’”
Dallas graduate Paige Selenski served as an alternate for the game.