BEIJING -- Tiffany Snow is accustomed to seeing people do a double take when she tells them which sport she plays.
"Some say, 'You're too small to play hockey,' " she said. "Most people think it's so cool."
It's cool, but in her case, the game isn't on ice.
Snow plays field hockey, the lone Californian to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the Beijing Games. Snow and Team USA earned a surprise tie with second-ranked Argentina in their Olympic opener Sunday and will face Japan today. The sport is far more popular on the East Coast than the West Coast. Snow, a native of Escondido and 1999 graduate of San Pasqual High, said there was "a pocket of field hockey" where she grew up.
"I started playing when I was 13, and I just kind of stuck with it," said Snow, who participated in USA Field Hockey's futures program and was twice chosen for the U.S. team in the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
"It was my dream and goal to play in the Olympics."
She played at Old Dominion, winning an NCAA title there as well as the Honda Award as the top women's college field hockey player in 2002.
Snow also played for the U.S. under-23 team before being selected for the senior national team. She has been a fixture at forward since her first senior cap against Ireland in 2004.
"Tiff is the center striker in our team, and that brings a large responsibility of being one of the key focal points of our attack," U.S. Coach Lee Bodimeade said.
Women's field hockey was added to the Olympic program in 1980. The U.S. team won a bronze medal in 1984 and competed at the Games in 1988 and 1996 but didn't qualify for the last two Olympic tournaments.
Getting a berth in the Beijing Games is a victory in itself, and it wouldn't have been possible without Snow. She scored the winning goal in a 3-1 victory over Belgium in an Olympic qualifying tournament played in Kazan, Russia, in April.
"It's really a team thing," she said. "As our coach says, that's what you get paid to do. But it really was the cherry on top of the whole cake."
The U.S. is not expected to finish in the top three. In Olympic warmups against top-ranked Netherlands, the U.S. was 0-2-1, scoring only two goals, one by Snow.