By ELENA GRANDE
For the Daily Gazette
CALIFORNIA–While most were snowed in their houses, baking pies and cozying up with the family for Thanksgiving break, myself, and a few other students from Niskayuna joined a horde of other field hockey players from all ages, boys and girls, at the 2014 National Field Hockey Festival hosted by the Empire Polo Club in Palm Springs, California.
The nationally sanctioned event, which took place from Thursday, November 27th-Saturday, November 29th, attracted over 7,000 visitors from the United States, Canada, Europe and the Caribbean.
Club teams from far and wide across the state and further, assembled their best players to compete at the event in hopes of being named the champion of their respective pools. The levels of competition were separated into groups with accordance to age. The age groups included Under 14, Under 16, Under 19, Mixed Adult, and Women’s Open.
The U14, U16 and U19 teams participated in two hour- long games per day, playing only the teams listed within their pools. The ultimate goal for each team was to win their pool, and walk away from the event with a shiny new medal. However, winning is not the only good thing that can come from this experience.
The National Field Hockey Festival is the largest amateur field hockey tournament in the world, so players aren’t the only ones attracted to the event. With the abundant amount of talent and skill competing, the festival serves as a prime opportunity for College Coaches from D1, D2 and D3 schools to watch–and sometimes recruit–their prospective players.
There were a grand total of 31 fields being utilized throughout the event, and the sidelines were arguably more crowded than the field itself. Parents and other family members of players cheered from their vantage point, but the sidelines were also occupied by college coaches, clipboards or tablets in hand, watching the games while simultaneously evaluating the players. Although it seems like a nerve-wracking thing to have big name coaches watching your every move as you navigate the field, myself and the other players found it helped push us harder to play our best.
“As a sophomore going for the first time, I was beyond nervous when I first got there, but I had so much fun,” said Niskayuna High School student Natalie Metzger.“Playing field hockey in California was the best.”
Natalie credited her talented team, the younger group from ADK Field Hockey, based in upstate New York, for helping make the experience so memorable.
“Playing at this difficult level was such a great challenge for the team, and I noticed how crisp their passes were,” Metzger said. “Going to this festival and playing teams from all around made me see the great skills everyone had.”
Metzger believes she can take what she learned from the other players and the experience itself and apply it to her overall game in school field hockey.
Due to limited space on my club’s festival teams, I had to take matters into my own hands in order to get to festival. As a goalkeeper without a team, I put my name on the guest player list on the USA field hockey website, where club coaches who need their rosters can find players from all different positions to join their team for the event.
Luckily, I was contacted by a coach whose travel team, Katahdin Field Hockey Club, was based out of Portland, Maine. After discussing the logistics of playing for the team, paying for flights and a hotel and other expenses, I made the commitment to the team and began eagerly anticipating the day I would get to step on the fields in California.
The team that I played for was unique in that we, unlike teams who had rosters ranging from 13-20, had only 10 girls total. The normal amount of players from each team allowed on the field during the game is eleven. We not only played a man down, but we also had no subs to relieve us from the field when it got too hot or we got tired.
Because our team was so small and the other teams in our pool were relatively large, the odds were against us. We tied one game, but lost the other 5. However, the scores themselves did not reflect the games we played. Our team was small, yet powerful. Each individual player had their own veracity and skill that when combined on the field, was a force to be reckoned with.
Although my team and I were not awarded a medal at the conclusion of the event, we were able to realize what an impact we made on each other, the other teams, and college coaches alike as the little team that could.
The winning combination of 80 degree weather, bright blue skies, and the chance to play field hockey all day long made Festival the amazing experience that it was.
I learned so many things about myself as a player, about other players, and about the game of field hockey itself. I can say with complete honesty that participating in the National Field Hockey Festival has been the highlight of my life thus far. Being able to play among people who shared the same passion and love for the game as i do, was an exceptional opportunity that I couldn’t be more grateful for, and will remember for years to come.