Las Leonas: Looking back at their year of Hockey

A new Olympic cycle began in 2017 for Las Leonas and far from being a quiet year, a lot of action took place for them. There were many changes to the team, the head coach, the Captain and their game style. They won and they lost. It was quite a year for the Argentinians who have been among the top teams on the international circuit for so long.

Many Changes took place for the team in 2017

 Head coach Agustín Corradini talking with his players. Credit: Villar Press

The year didn’t start so well for the Argentine confederation of Hockey (CAH). In January, Agustín Corradini (who was the head coach of the junior team las Leoncitas back then and the assistant of the senior team) was fired by Gabriel Minadeo, former head coach of Las Leonas, for reasons that later the CAH said were not true. A new president was elected in April 2017 for the CAH, Miguel Grasso, put Agustín Corradini as the new head coach for Las Leonas instead of Gabriel Minadeo and in that way ended the soap opera that lasted almost five months. That problem was over, but the bigger problem is deeper: Las Leonas have been suffering this situation since 2013 and so far they have had five head coaches in just four years.

In the middle of that uncertainty, las Leonas suffered changes to the team as well. The historic top scorer Noel Barrionuevo was surprisingly left aside by Gabriel Minadeo at the end of 2016 and it was a big scandal for the Argentine hockey family but when Agustín Corradini announced the roster for the coming year after her appointment she not so surprisingly included Barrionuevo within the team structure.

Another change to the team was the shock announcement of captain Carla Rebecchi’s who at the end of February announced her retirement from the national team because she wanted to start new chapters in her life away from hockey, leaving the team without the one of the best forwards of an incredible generation of Leonas that won it all, except for the elusive gold medal at the Olympics. The captaincy was given to the incredibly talented Belén Succi although noticeably the captains arm band is worn by Delfina Merino for most of the games that they play.

Although a new Olympic cycle brings in new players from all the international teams, las Leonas weren’t any different to the general routine. Corradini brought many young and talented players from the team that won the Junior World Cup in 2016 (las Leoncitas beat The Netherlands 4-2 in the final at Santiago, Chile) and so the team was filled with renewed energy thanks to these new young players that want to make a name for themselves within the hockey elite and want to keep the mystique and extreme talent that has lead las Leonas to win so many titles.

 

A new style, searching for a new identity and the World League

 Noel Barrionuevo and Julia Gomez Fantasia celebrate. Credit: Villar Press

When Agustín Corradini took over the team, he it made very clear what he wanted his players to accomplish in order to be more than just talented individual players. To shape the identity Corradini introduced the following 1) Play vertically and not horizontally, as in more of an attacking sort of game. 2) Possession, speed and aggressiveness in offensive plays 3) attack from the middle and not so much for the side-lines (like teams do in basketball).

And the team has been working hard to put into place those three points in their game play, with their successes and  failures, they are achieving what the head coach expects them to do in their game. They applied Corradini’s philosophy very well in the group phase of the Semi-final and Final of the World League, where they showed an overwhelming, dominant and even crashing style when they faced their opponents. At the Pan American Cup they showed a very aggressive style of play, winning all the matches and ending the tournament unbeaten and lifting that very coveted Pan-American Cup.

Nonetheless, we cannot avoid mentioning the fact that the excess of verticality, attacking play, has been harmful for the team. Most of all when las Leonas had to play decisive games, for example when they faced Germany in the World League Semi-final, for a place in the finals or when they played against New Zealand in the final of said tournament. In both occasions, las Leonas were the favourites but an intelligent game displayed by their opponents were enough to stop the frenetic game the Argentines fell into due to the lack of effectiveness in their numerous attacks. They are a young team and it is understandable they lack enough patience to not fall into desperation in situations where the results are not what they expected but they need to learn to be patient and soon.

And there lies the negative part of an excess of verticality: every team needs to pause the game, even if they’re losing and take a moment to think, or find some variation of their game style when things don’t work out the way they intended at first even though they did that in some matches during 2017, they failed to do so in decisive games that costed them a podium position.

What las Leonas need to work on is their short corner routines, which is one of the most important plays of hockey in the modern game. A well-executed short corner can win matches even on a bad day and the game against New Zealand was a clear example. The Black Sticks had just three short corners in the entire match but they converted two and that was enough to win in the quarter finals after losing all their previous matches.

That is why it is so important for las Leonas to find effectiveness in the short corners. Agustina Gorzelany is the person responsible for guiding the girls important part of the play under the direction of Corradini but she has had few opportunities to prove what she has learned so far since she wasn’t on the roster that played the World League Final. Whether the new head coach invited the usual shooters (Noel Barrionuevo and Julia Gomes Fantasia) or finds a new weapon, the truth is having someone lethal in charge of that play should be one of the top priorities of Corradini and the team.

 

Balance of the year and looking to the future

 Delfina Merino doing one of her tricks. Credit: World Sport Pics

Even though las Leonas won only one of the three tournaments they played in this year we can say their year was good. Good because they are a team that is in development but nonetheless they could beat the last Olympic champion at friendly games and when they faced them in the last tournament of the year.

Besides nobody can deny how dangerous las Leonas are when they attack, and they growth as a team and individually over the last year. We can see two examples of this, One is captain Delfina Merino a skilful forward who dazzles with each passing year and she has been nominated for Best Player of the Year, award given by FIH. The other is the other forward María José Granatto, who is nominated for the second year in a row for the award of “Rising Star” also given by FIH, after another great year.

We can also mention the qualification for the World Cup London 2018 and the fact that las Leonas are among the top three teams in the last FIH ranking.

If we talk a little bit about the World Cup, we already know the teams that are in pool C along with the Argentine team and their schedule. Las Leonas will debut against Spain on July 22nd, then they’ll face Germany three days later and finally they’ll play against South Africa on july 28th. Before they travel to London for the world cup, they are going to host a series of friendlies in Argentina so the younger players can get more experience and hopefully perfect their game play. Those friendlies include Belgium, England, New Zealand and USA, all of whom will be at the world cup as well in the summer of 2018

We are excited to see what las Leonas will have to offer in 2018. After the year they had in 2017 we can be hopeful that they will have learnt from their tournament games and develop into a great team again.