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Tuesday, July 29, 2008 | Tiffany Snow laughs at the memory. The Olympics may be the first sports dream of many young girls, but hers was different.

Snow grew up in Escondido a softball player dreaming of becoming the first woman to play Major League Baseball.

But reality set in a long time ago, and now she’s 26 years old. After being named college field hockey’s national Player of the Year as the 2002 Honda Award recipient at Old Dominion University, she had a good start on life after college. She spent four years as an assistant coach at Boston University.

But that doesn’t mean Snow stopped dreaming

For a shot at the 2008 Olympics that begin next week in Beijing, she not only gave up her B.U. job in 2007, she put another important phase of life on hold. She’s been engaged to be married since September last year to Aaron Huisman, a Santee firefighter.

“He knows it’s my dream and he’s willing to put it off,” said Snow, who added with a laugh, “I tell him marriage comes in second place.”

Snow, a 1999 graduate of San Pasqual High School, has been a member of the national team since 2003, although she didn’t commit to full-time status until she gave up her coaching job. But making the Olympic team doesn’t guarantee a trip to Beijing in field hockey.

The United States didn’t secure its Beijing trip until it won a six-nation qualifying tournament in April in Russia. Only the tournament champion advanced.

“I didn’t really see it as a risk,” Snow said. “We were confident entering the tournament, and we feel it’s a dream to represent your country whether you’re going to the Olympics or playing international tournaments. Field hockey has taken me abroad to so many different countries. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Unlike other U.S. sports, the Americans must qualify for the Olympics in field hockey, something they hadn’t accomplished since the 1988 Games in Seoul. The United States played in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta as the host country, but the last time the United States brought home a medal was in 1984 (a bronze); that was an Olympics depleted by the Soviet Union bloc boycott in Los Angeles.

In 2008, the United States is ranked 11th in the 12-team tournament and opens with a match against No. 2 Argentina. That doesn’t sound promising, but Snow and her teammates feel the program has made big strides since last year when New Zealand’s Lee Bodimeade took over and the team moved to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

In March, Argentina, came to the OTC, full roster in tow, for four matches. The U.S. won three.

“At the Olympics, they still have the experience on us that they bring to the field,” Snow said. “But we’re not going there as spectators. We’re going there to bring home a medal. We’re going to leave it all on the field.”

Snow, a forward, has emerged as one of the team’s best players. At the Russia qualifying tournament when the U.S. was 6-0, she was the leading tournament scorer. Her six goals included the game point in the 3-1 final.

In July 2007, she gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the gold medal match against Argentina before the Americans took second place with a 4-2 loss. Snow was also one of that tournament’s leading scorers and was named to the all-tournament team.

“She’s the one we turn to for scoring goals,” Bodimeade said. “She knows where the net is. Her being the leading scorer in the Olympic qualifying tournament shows she can do it on the world stage.”

Snow is the only Californian on the U.S. team in a sport dominated by players from the Midwest and East, where field hockey is more commonly played at the junior high and high school levels.

Her roster spot continues a California tradition, though, as the second San Diegan to play on the Olympic field hockey team.

Serra High alum Kris Fillat was the only Californian on the 1996 team — the last time the United States was in the Olympics. There was only one Californian on the 1988 and 1984 teams. The United States qualified with two Californians for the 1980 Olympics — the first year women’s field hockey was an Olympic sport — but the United States boycotted the Games in Moscow.

“This is the big one for us,” Snow said. “There is a great amount of pride to represent your country. Maybe we’ll inspire kids watching back home.”

Maybe even a young girl dreaming of playing Major League Baseball.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

—TOM SHANAHAN

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