Has USA joined the elite?
The United States is a real threat to return to the podium in women's field hockey.
The Americans finished third in Los Angeles in 1984 but haven't medaled since, despite qualifying for the Games in 2008 and 2012.
There are signs that a breakthrough might be near. The U.S. won the Pan-Am Games in 2015, beating perennial power Argentina in the final. In the Champions Tournament in June, the United States finished third, despite being the lowest-ranked of the six entrants. Included were draws against No. 3 Australia and No. 4 New Zealand in pool play and a win over Australia in the third-place match.
The U.S. is No. 5 in the latest FIH world rankings, its highest slot ever. The squad plans to challenge Australia and New Zealand, as well as No. 1 Netherlands and No. 2 Argentina, next month.
"Last month, we were able to show the world that we are at a point where we're reaching our goals," forward Katie Bam said. "We're stepping up and we're taking it to teams that are ranked higher than us, and we are playing without fear, and we are winning those games."
A critical part of coach Craig Parnham's plan when he took over in 2013 was to make sure the players clearly defined what they wanted to accomplish. They met for 2 1/2 hours and agreed that the word united needed to be more than just a part of their country's name.
"We want this program to be number one in the world," midfielder Rachel Dawson said. "We understand that the only way that we're going to do that is by doing it together, by each of us bringing our individual strengths and making something that's bigger than any of us individually."
Dawson has the most caps, with 289. She played on both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams.
Lauren Crandall is second on the team with 273 caps, and she also heads into her third Olympics. She was fifth in the International Hockey Federation Player of the Year balloting in 2015.
"She's hugely experienced and has been through many cycles with the USA," Parnham said. "She is a great leader for the team. Not only does she speak well, but more importantly for us, she defines her ability on actions and behaviors. She leads by example and is a real role model for the younger players."
Kaitelyn Falgowski, a midfielder who also will play in her third Olympics, has 225 caps.
The Americans plan to improve on their 12th-place finish in London in 2012.
"I think a lot can happen in four years," Falgowski said. "That's one of the biggest things going forward, is this is a new team. The lessons we've learned over the past four years have really prepared us going into Rio for any mindset. We're still writing our own script, and in London, we may have finished 12th, but we're going in with a fresh start in Rio, and I think that's something that we're all prepared for and excited to be able to do."
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