Oct 25, 2012, 3:57 PM EDT
The peak of most athletes’ careers is to have the opportunity to play for team USA. Athletes train all of their lives to get a chance to shine on the brightest stage while representing their country. Some of the CAA’s finest field hockey players have already gotten a chance to make that dream a reality at a young age.
Drexel’s Amanda Fleischut, Lindsay McArdle, and Meghan Plank teamed up with conference counterpart Kelsey McKee of Delaware to play alongside 30 other top college field hockey players on the USA National Indoor Field Hockey Team. Drexel head coach Denise Zelenak took on the challenge of coaching the team and bringing in top athletes to fill the roster. The indoor national team is one of the newest additions to USA Field Hockey and the indoor game is rapidly growing in popularity.
USA Field Hockey has made a big commitment to its indoor program, so much so that it created two new teams to complement the senior squad, the developmental team and the junior team. The developmental team is made up of girls under the age of 19 and it prepares them to take the next step to the senior squad in just a couple of years. The junior team is comprised of girls primarily under the age of 15, helping aspiring young field hockey players learn the game and prepare them at a very young age to one day play for the senior squad.
“The developmental squad and the junior squad have been a great asset to our program,” said Plank. “These girls are going to be starting as young as 12 years old. So in a few years they are going to have girls that have competed for a very long time and will be ready to compete against other countries.”
Indoor field hockey is much different than the outdoor game. The indoor game consists of five field players and the goalie on the court at a time compared to 10 field players and the goalie in the outdoor game. The players compete on a small, hard-surfaced court surrounded by boards similar to what you would see in ice hockey. The players aren’t allowed to lift the ball and make passes through the air, which makes the game that much harder. Most players consider indoor more challenging than the outdoor game, but they thrive on the thrill of the challenge.
“The indoor game is a lot faster with subs coming in and out constantly like in ice hockey,” said Fleischut. “It’s tiring, and you feel like you are always down on the ground, but it is such a fun game to play.”
Most players didn’t have much experience when they decided to try out for Team USA. McArdle and Plank had the small advantage of playing indoors with club teams while in high school. However, Fleischut and McKee had no experience playing competitively indoors and they had to work that much harder to make the team.
“I never played indoor competitively, just with Drexel for fun,” said Fleischut. “Coach convinced me to try out, though, and we recruited as many people as we could to come give it a shot.”
Last March the big day arrived for the players to try out for the team. Around 200 of the nation’s top field hockey players came out to try and earn the privilege to compete for Team USA. After a grueling day of drills and scrimmages, the four CAA student-athletes learned that they had made the team and would get the chance to wear the red, white and blue.
“It was an amazing feeling when I made the team,” said McKee. “I didn’t expect to make it with so many talented players at the tryout. It feels great to be honored as one of the best 34 indoor field hockey players in the country. It’s a surreal feeling.”
After the team had been selected, the girls got to know each other and began to practice together. Once opponents in the CAA, the girls would now be teammates on the biggest stage of all for Team USA. They all expected the transition would be easy at first, but it was difficult to put away the rivalry that comes with playing against each other in the CAA.
“At first it was weird because there were a lot of Drexel girls on the team and we are rivals,” said McKee. “Although when we started playing together we got to be close friends and became a family. I think it will help me when we play them in the CAA because I know their moves and how they play. There will be some mind games to play with them when we face Drexel, and I’m looking forward to it.”
After a hard summer of training and playing pickup games across the country with Team USA, the girls were surprised and saddened to learn that the indoor completion at the Pan-Am games in Chile (scheduled for last August) were cancelled. This didn’t discourage the girls, but inspired them to work that much harder for their next competition in Vienna, Italy, in January.
“I am so excited to get to go to Vienna,” said McArdle. “It’s our first year on the team and I am so excited to get to go play internationally. It’s going to be our biggest experience ever and we are all really excited.”
Through thick and thin, these girls have worked as hard as possible to make the most of their Team USA experience and to make our country proud. They understand that it is a privilege to wear the red, white and blue and they don’t take that lightly.
The girls are having fun through all of the pressure and are getting to have experiences that they will remember forever; and that is what the Team USA experience is all about.
By: Jonathan Davidson
Editorial Assistance – Zach Burrus
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