- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2012

Just more than nine months ago, Maryland alum Keli Smith-Puzo was pregnant with her second son. On Monday, she became one of seven players with area ties to be named to the U.S. Olympic field hockey squad.

Fellow Terrapin Katie O’Donnell also qualified for the team and most likely will start at striker for coach Lee Bodimeade, who is an assistant coach at Maryland. Virginia’s Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese booked tickets to London, and Old Dominion graduate Caroline Nichols also earned a spot. Other area selections included Claire Laubach, of Centreville, Va., and Shannon Taylor, of Midlothian, Va.

“I think that this team, combined with the experience and the youth that’s so talented, can hit the medals,” said Smith-Puzo, who scored three goals for the U.S. in the Beijing Games in 2008. “I’ve always been one to set goals that I think are reachable and attainable, and I truly think that this team can be on the podium.”

Smith-Puzo returned to the national team in December after giving birth to her youngest son, Ian. She was a three-time All-American at Maryland and has 169 international caps under her belt. O’Donnell, a four-time All-American and arguably the most decorated Terrapin in program history, graduated last spring but already has 112 appearances.

The two Maryland strikers will be joined up top by a pair of Cavaliers. Selenski and Vittese made the team after taking a year of absence at Virginia to train with the national team at its new headquarters in Chula Vista, Calif. The two combined for 31 goals at Virginia in 2010 and will look to bring a similar mindset to London in two months.

“This is a celebratory moment for Paige and Michelle and all they have accomplished at the highest echelon of their sport,” Virginia coach Michele Madison said in a statement. “They took a year off from their studies to pursue a life-long dream, and they succeeded.”

Taylor, a Syracuse graduate, is one of the two remaining strikers on the roster and will make her Olympic debut in London. Nichols and Laubach, meanwhile, will anchor the defense. They have combined for more than 200 international appearances and bring a much-needed veteran presence to the back line.

Bodimeade has high expectations for this year’s team after it defeated top-ranked Argentina in the Pan-American Games last October. He said his players have grown close over a year of living and training in California, a retreat to Breckenridge, Colo., and a training session with Navy SEALs.

After failing to qualify for the Olympics in 2004 and finishing eighth in Beijing, Smith-Puzo said the team’s mentality has changed.

“This go around it wasn’t about qualifying,” she said. “Now it’s about doing more.”