Locals lead U.S. success at Croatia Cup
Campbell, Sessa, Palde enjoy 1-2 American finish at international competition
It was an American invasion at the Croatia Cup in Sveti Ivan Zelina, Croatia, January 4-6. More specifically, a southeastern Pa. invasion.
With representatives from this corner of the state including Mercury-area athletes Ali (McEvoy) Campbell (Boyertown), Ashley Sessa (Schwenksville) and Josephine Palde (Schwenksville), the United States Senior and Under-21 women’s indoor national field hockey teams were dominant in the international competition.
The senior team featuring Campbell and Spring-Ford freshman Sessa went undefeated to claim the championship of the seven-team round-robin tournament.
Hill School sophomore Palde and the under-21 team placed second, defeating three senior national teams ranked in the world top 30 in the process. Their only loss came against the U.S. senior team.
The local representatives on the champions touched both ends of the spectrum, the former Univ. of Maryland great and USWNT outdoor national Campbell (Boyertown Class of 2010) being joined by Sessa, a 14-year-old freshman at Spring-Ford.
“I had a great time and learned so much from my teammates that have been at this level many times before,” said Sessa. “Hannah (Prince), Ali, Maddie (Orobono) and Corrine (Zanolli) were always there to support and push me.”
They were seemingly the perfectly intended blend.
“I am pleased how this group has come together as a team,” said head coach Jun Kentwell. “We have a talented group of young players who have gained valuable experience here, both playing in this international event, and playing with and being led by players who competed in the Indoor World Cup last February.”
The U.S. senior team was led by Corinne Zanolli (Newton Square, Episcopal Academy Class of 2017), who received the Best Player of the Tournament Award and Top Goal Scorer Award with 14 total goals throughout the tournament.
While U.S. international competition is old hat for Campbell, it’s anything but for the 14-year-old Sessa who is one of the youngest senior team selections in U.S. history.
“I have to admit, when I walked out onto the court for my first game I was really nervous,” Sessa said. “But as I was playing that all faded and I just played my game.”
She got a nice icebreaker as Campbell and Sessa scored the tournament’s first two goals, their early tallies leading the senior team over the U-21s, 18-4.
The U-21s didn’t let the loss linger, going 5-0 the rest of the three-day tournament, claiming wins over the senior teams from Croatia (FIH Indoor No. 20), Slovakia (No. 27) and Slovenia (No. 29). Palde tallied in the wins over Slovakia and Slovenia.
“It was a great experience,” Palde said. “I got to play at a really high level of competition and spend time with some of my friends and meet new people from the senior team I haven’t met before, got to train with them over a six-month period which is really nice.”
Players trained over a sixmonth period at The Training Center in Limerick ahead of roster selections and competition in Croatia.
While Palde had competed abroad before, as an eighth grader in the Netherlands with her West Chester Eagles club team, the U.S. experience was unique besides being indoor where teams are 6 vs. 6 (including the goalkeeper) in a quicker, faster-paced game than its outdoor relative.
“I liked playing with USA because I got a different perspective playing with different people and I got to learn more from other people,” she said. “It was a great experience overall. I got to see Zagreb and other parts of Croatia, it was really nice.”
Along with Palde, southeast Pa. players were Academy of Notre Dame junior Mia Leonhardt (Media), Mount St. Joseph’s sophomore Megan Maransky (Blue Bell) and Episcopal Academy sophomore Kelly Smith (Downingtown) and freshman Macy Szukics (Malvern).
The U.S. senior team, ranked No. 12 in the world, outscored opponents 76-8 over the tournament. In the final match of the Croatia Cup, the senior Indoor USWNT took on the host nation in front of a packed stadium. Campbell gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish en route to a 8-3 win in the finale.
“My most memorable moment was when they announced our team as the champions of the 2019 Croatia Cup and the entire team coming together to receive it,” Sessa said. “I am so lucky to be part of this team with such great athletes.”
The United States senior and under-21 indoor national teams competed at the Croatia Cup from Jan. 4-6. The senior team, featuring Ali McEvoy Campbell (Boyertown), standing fifth from left, and Ashley Sessa (Schwenksville), standing sixth from left, won the championship. Josephine Palde, kneeling fourth from right, helped the under-21 team to a runner-up finish.