The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

August 1, 2012

Olympics: Smith Puzo a leader on and off the field

LONDON — When Selinsgrove graduate Keli Smith Puzo competed in the Olympics in 2008, she was just like her other twenty-something teammates — focused on excellence on the field hockey turf and having a great time off of it.

What a difference four years makes.

While she’s as competitive as ever as she wraps up her storied career over the next two weeks at these London 2012 Olympic Games, her personal life bears little resemblance to theirs.

As the only mother on the team, and one of the few moms competing at the Olympics, what little free time she has is spent with her husband Inako and two young boys, Xavi and Ian, who were born long after the Beijing Games.

“For me, on a personal note, just having a husband and kids makes it extra special,” said the 33-year-old, who is the oldest of the 16 players on Team USA. “To have my kids in the stands watching me and one day being able to explain to them what mommy did is pretty special. I see them for a bit after each game, and on days off I get to see them for a couple of hours. But I understand that these are two important weeks and I’ll see them when I can. I know that my focus has to be the team.”

After squeaking out a 1-0 win over Argentina on Tuesday, the Americans evened their record at 1 early in the tournament. They suffered a tough opening match loss to Germany, 2-1.

“I think we were a little bit unlucky in the first game not to come away with at least a point (for a tie),” said Smith Puzo, who resides in Ohio. Inako coaches field hockey at Miami University. “We played very hard and very well in the second half. We had a lot of chances. We knew (Tuesday) we needed to win and we put the goal away when we had the opportunity.”

The Americans will play Australia today, New Zealand on Saturday and South Africa on Aug. 6 to round out group play. They need to finish in the top two of their group to advance to the semifinals, which begin Aug. 8. If they don’t make the semis, they’ll play a classification game to determine their final placement.   

Smith Puzo said the team has high hopes to find a way into the semifinals.

“I think that we know that we have a group that knows it has the potential to be on the (medal) stands, no doubt about it,” she said. “But we’re really just focusing on one game at a time. We know that if we stay on task and we take every day as it comes that we’ll have a shot to be on the stand. We obviously really believe that we have a group of people that can put us there.”

If the team does win a medal, she realizes she’ll have made a major contribution — not just through her play, but as a team leader.

“Once you’ve had a wealth of experience you kind of take it upon yourself to make sure the younger generation doesn’t make the same mistakes you do. So you do your best to be a leader,” said the 10-year member of the U.S. National Team. “I think naturally I’m more a leader on the field and I tend to lead more by example. So that’s just what I try to do every day.”

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