The U.S. women's field hockey team, which has played at Spooky Nook Sports for the last five years, has a new home for 2020: North Carolina.
While still based at Spooky Nook, the team will play its eight Pro League home games at the University of North Carolina's Karen Shelton Stadium, said the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the organization overseeing the sport, in a Monday announcement.
The move coincides with criticism over the conditions of Spooky Nook's facilities and, if permanent, would likely have an economic impact on Lancaster County.
“We're in continued contract negotiations right now. The conversation is totally open,” said Mackenzie Bender, marketing manager at Spooky Nook. “The person that's managing the contracts on (USA Field Hockey's) end was not the person who initially signed it, so we're just checking with them, wanting to make sure it's still beneficial to both parties. Truly, we want to make sure it's the best fit for both parties, and we're hoping to have that figured out before Christmas at the very latest.”
USA Field Hockey representatives did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
Last season, Team USA played seven of it's eight Pro League home games at Spooky Nook. The other contest, a 5-0 loss to the Netherlands, was held at Wake Forest University in North Carolina in February.
The U.S. women moved their headquarters to Lancaster County in 2014, holding their first international series at the Nook with a four-game set against Canada that March.
A potential move from the “Home of Hockey,” comes at an interesting time, with new changes on the horizon for both the second season of the FIH Pro League and the relationship between Team USA and the Nook.
Both sides are still currently under contract while working on a new deal, and more international field hockey is still on the way. Spooky Nook will host the the 2020 Indoor Pan American Cups, both the men's and women's tournaments, at the end of March.
The facility previously hosted the outdoor Pan Am Cups in August 2017, where the U.S. men and women both won bronze.
While work continues on a new contract, the Nook also has another project ahead of it, updating its playing surfaces.
The condition of the outdoor turf field used by Team USA has come under question, including a mention in a petition started by members of both the U.S. men's and women's squads looking to improve conditions across the program.
“It was supposed to last 10 years, we know it hasn't,” Bender said of the turf. “It's at about the five-year mark and, just because of the quantity of play that has occurred on it, it probably needs replaced.”
The Nook filed a warranty claim on the field, which was approved, and is now in the process of scheduling the turf replacement to ensure that the surface meets FIH standards. The turf field inside the dome stadium is still in good condition.
“Basically, a ball dropped from one meter missed the mark by three centimeters,” Bender admitted. “It's very small regulations – the international certification that came out about 18 months ago has set a new standard. When we built it in 2013, everything was fine. As the standards of the federation and the international certifications continue to grow and evolve, it's just making sure that we're still making the updates to meed that standard.”
Team USA closed out the inaugural season of the FIH Pro League at the Nook in June, falling to Germany 3-2. Since then, the 65-acre sports complex hosted Team USA's three-game series against Canada in September and will serve as the host for the NCAA Division III field hockey semifinals.
Franklin & Marshall will meet Johns Hopkins Saturday, Nov. 23 at 11 a.m. followed by Middlebury vs. Salisbury in the second semifinal. The championship game will be Sunday at 1 p.m.
For the U.S. women, the focus now shifts to the FIH Pro League and a season-opening series against the Netherlands at UNC.
Just like in the inaugural season, in which Team USA finished last with just one regulation win and one shootout victory in 16 games, nine women's teams will compete from January to June to finish among the top four squads and advance to the Grand Final.
One change that has been implemented, however, is the discontinuation of the home-and-away series format. Now, one team will host both meetings between two countries, with both matches typically being played over the course of a weekend.
Team USA will open the season against the Netherlands with games on January 25 and 26 before traveling to Argentina and New Zealand in February.
The Americans will host Australia and China in early May before going to Belgium and Great Britain and then concluding the regular season against Germany at UNC in June.