Monday, July 29, 2019

The Flag Bearer

TigerBlog was not shocked by the news Friday that the U.S. had won the women's water polo World Championship and even less shocked to see that Ashleigh Johnson was the MVP of the tournament.

Johnson, of course, is the 2017 Princeton grad who led the U.S. to the gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The U.S. team defeated Spain in the final 11-6, outscoring the Spaniards 6-0 in the third quarter. Johnson made 14 saves in the game.

(Johnson was not one of the three American women's water polo players hurt in the collapse of the upper floor of a Seoul night club after the championship game, an accident that tragically killed two South Koreans).

TigerBlog has said this a million times, but if you've never seen Johnson play, you've missed out on someone incredibly special. In fact, TB wrote this about Johnson before the tournament began:

If you ever saw her play, you can understand why. A goalie, she seems not so much to float on the water as she does to use the water as if it was her own launching pad, reaching shots in the upper corners that seem impossible. Think about it. You're treading water. The pool is deep. You can't touch the bottom. And then you have to explode out of the pool to try to stop a shot that is rocketing at you.
TigerBlog has long maintained that Johnson is the best women's athlete Princeton has produced, edging out NCAA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Caroline Lind.

Another name that needs to be added to the conversation is Kathleen Sharkey, the field hockey player.

Like Lind, Sharkey also has an NCAA championship on her resume, won in 2012. Also like Lind and Johnson, she has put together a very accomplished international career, and she is now an eight-year veteran of the U.S. national team.

Sharkey made her debut at the Olympics in 2016, where she helped the U.S. to a fifth-place finish. She is now she is the captain of the U.S. team for the Pan Am Games, which began this weekend in Lima, Peru.

More than just playing for the U.S., Sharkey is the team captain. And beyond just field hockey, she was the flag bearer for the U.S. team at the opening ceremonies.

By the way, she is the first field hockey player to be the flag bearer for the U.S. team at the Pan Am Games, but she is not the first Princetonian. That honor went to Karen Smyers, who did so in 1999, when she won her second-straight triathlon gold medal.

As for Sharkey, she was the 2009 Ivy Rookie of the Year and the 2010 and 2012 Ivy Player of the Year. She finished her Princeton career with 107 goals and 245 points, both records.

By a large margin, in fact.

The second-best goal total in program history is 71, shared by Ilvy Friebe and Kirsty Hale. That's about two-thirds of the way to Sharkey's total. Actually, it's 66.3 percent of the way for Friebe and Hale.

How does that compare to the percentage difference between Bill Bradley (the standard for all Princeton records) and the second-best men's basketball point total at Princeton. Bradley scored 2,503 career points, while Ian Hummer is second with 1,625, which means that Hummer had 64.9 percent as many points as Bradley.

That's pretty impressive.

The Pan Am Games field hockey tournament is an Olympic qualifier for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. The Americans have won the last two Pan Am championships, but only one current player - not Sharkey - played in the last one.

The 2019 Pan Am Games could end with a third-straight final between the U.S. and Argentina. The Americans are ranked 13th in the world, while Argentina is ranked third.

The U.S. team opens pool play this afternoon against Mexico. Lima, by the way, is an hour behind Princeton. The Americans will also play Chile and Peru before the quarterfinals Aug. 4.

There will be no videostreaming of the event except for the semifinals (Aug. 6) and final (Aug. 9). The winner of the tournament automatically advances to the Olympics.

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