LIMA, Peru — There have been several signs that the Canadian women's field hockey team has made significant strides at the international level.
The silver medals they won Friday after a 5-1 loss to Argentina at the Pan Am Games were the most obvious. Earning a top-two finish at the FIH Hockey Series Final last June was also impressive.
But what really got coach Giles Bonnet's attention was when Argentina's coach wondered whether the Canadians might be available for training matches this fall.
"That's what happens now," Bonnet said. "Other top teams are interested in playing us. Before they wouldn't give you a phone call."
The third-ranked Argentina side sealed an Olympic berth with the victory. The 18th-ranked Canadians will get another opportunity to book a ticket for next year's Tokyo Games at a qualifier this fall.
Captain Katherine Wright had the lone goal for the Canadians, who generated few opportunities on the night.
Bonnet, who joined the program 15 months ago and was out of contract after this event, has agreed to stay in his position for two more months to see things through to the qualifier.
He said a 2-0 semifinal victory over the Americans was a key one for his players as it will give them an easier draw this fall. Bonnet also predicted a rankings jump from their showing here.
"The win for us against the USA, that truly was the game for us," he said. "This game we had hoped for more. It wasn't there and we can improve."
Canada had a decent start on a chilly, damp evening at the Villa Maria Del Triunfo Sports Center.
Midfielder Natalie Sourisseau found a loose ball in the early going but her shot sailed wide. Argentina's Julieta Jankunas rifled a low shot inside the post to open the scoring and Silvina D'Elia made it 2-0 in the second quarter.
The Canadians got a lift after the halftime break when Wright corralled a loose ball by the side of the net and beat goalkeeper Maria Succi. However, Carla Rebecchi restored Argentina's two-goal lead midway through the third and D'Elia scored off a penalty corner with 24 seconds left in the quarter.
Jankunas added an insurance goal early in the fourth.
"I think as the disappointment dissipates, we're going to be really excited and just celebrate this (silver) that we've come away with," said Canadian forward Madeline Secco.
The 1,000-seat venue was full with a few energetic pockets of Canadian supporters trying to compete with a vocal Argentina contingent. It was Canada's first appearance in the Pan Am final since falling to Argentina at the 1991 Games in Havana.
Canada's last Olympic appearance in women's field hockey came at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
The Pan Am silver is an upgrade for the Canadians, who beat Chile to win bronze four years ago in Toronto. Canada's second-place finish last June in Spain secured the team a berth in this fall's Olympic qualifier.
The loss of Own The Podium funding and Field Hockey Canada's financial problems forced the team to turn to fundraising this season. A crowdfunding effort financed the team's trip to Valencia and a private donor helped pay for a training camp ahead of the tournament.
The players trained in Belgium this season so they could play more international matches and have access to elite coaches and trainers.
Their commitment is paying off with results. Canada's only preliminary-round loss here was to Argentina and the win over the 2015 Pan Am champion Americans showed the team has made strides.
"We're coming off No. 21 in the world," Bonnet said. "So we're playing catch-up. We're moving quickly. After this event, we'll go to No. 14 in the world. So in six months, we've moved seven places.
"This is a team in transition."
Bonnet said the team had raised about $200,000 just to keep going through this season.
"We want to be the best," he said. "I think this team could ultimately, over four years, it could go all the way. It could be a top-four (team) in the world."
The Americans beat Chile 5-1 for bronze.
In men's field hockey, Argentina and Canada will meet for gold on Saturday. Canada edged Chile 3-2 in one semifinal and Argentina blanked the United States 5-0 in the other.
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