If you look at a list of the top field hockey players in the NCAA, or the roster of Team USA, two stats will stick out: There are a lot of goals scored, and a lot of Pennsylvanians.
“Pennsylvania’s kind of always been a powerhouse for field hockey,” sophomore striker Allison Evans, who hails from Macungie, Pa., said. “I’m not quite sure why.”
Nobody seems to have a definite answer for why the Keystone State dominates the sport, but there’s no denying that it does. As of last week, 87 players on the top 10 teams in the NCAA come from Pennsylvania. Consider that New Jersey has the second-most players on that list — with 23. And Pennsylvania is also home of the best of the best, including nine of 16 members of the U.S. Olympic team.
Much of that talent plays for the Tigers, as 12 of the 24 members of the field hockey team are from Pennsylvania. Six more come from New Jersey or New York, the second- and third-most prolific states in field hockey talent. Princeton, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, seems to get an advantage from its location.
“The geographical location and its proximity to my home in Pennsylvania were definitely a factor in my decision,” senior striker Kat Sharkey, a native of Moosic, Pa., said.
Sharkey is returning to Princeton this year after taking a year off to play for the national team. Her rise to the top of her sport, like many others’, began years ago with youth leagues and club teams in Pennsylvania.
“In my area of Pennsylvania, there were so many playing opportunities,” she said. “Growing up, I was pretty much playing field hockey every evening.”
Field hockey may be a fall sport in the NCAA, but it is a year-round sport from a young age for some in Pennsylvania. Sharkey played for her school and her club, but she also participated in indoor field hockey when it got cold, as well as “camp after camp” in the summer.
High school competition is fierce, and those who perform well at the high school level are guaranteed to be in the recruiting spotlight. Evans, for instance, went to Emmaus High, where her team won not only the highly competitive Lehigh Valley Conference four times but also two state championships. Being part of teams that good has its advantages.
“It’s easier to get noticed,” Evans said. “A lot of coaches end up coming to your high school [games], which doesn’t always happen.”
“All the girls I played with at my club in high school were being heavily recruited by coaches all across the country,” Sharkey said.
Their state is so far ahead of others that there is plenty of room at the top for Pennsylvanians. Sharkey and Evans agreed that, although games are fiercely competitive, the recruiting game is not. There seems to be a sense that everyone is going somewhere good. “I was happy to see others receive offers from top colleges,” Sharkey said.
Princeton’s location may explain why, with recruits getting attention from schools around the nation, the Tigers have been able to consistently nab a high number of Pennsylvanians. Evans also cited its proximity to her home as a reason she chose Princeton.
Of course, there’s more to the story than that. Penn is even more embedded in the hotbed of field hockey talent, but it has traditionally fielded much less competitive teams. Evans said she believed that Pennsylvanian players were drawn to Princeton’s winning tradition, not just its location. In other words, it’s hard to tell which came first, the wins or the Pennsylvanians.
But once a Pennsylvanian recruit arrives, she’s sure to see some familiar faces.
“Playing with club teams and even doing stuff with USA field hockey, you meet a lot of the people who you either continue to play with or play against in college,” Evans said.
There is an undeniable advantage in having team chemistry that starts before the team is formed. Sharkey played on the same club team as Alyssa Pyros ’12, her friend and teammate for three seasons at Princeton; the duo reached two NCAA quarterfinals and a Final Four. Senior midfielder Katie Reinprecht and junior midfielder Julia Reinpre cht, from North Wales, Pa., are also back at Princeton after a year with the Olympic team.
The Tigers lead the Ivy League in players from Pennsylvania, with four more than Penn. But with 75 members of other top-10 teams hailing from the same state, Sharkey, Evans, the Reinprechts and others are bound to compete against people they’ve known for a long time.
“Most teams on our schedule this year, I know people on their roster who I played with growing up,” Sharkey said. “I’ve already played two high school teammates this season.”
Playing people who share their roots is a mixed bag for the Pennsylvanians. On one hand, it’s never bad to know your opponent; on the other, that opponent has often had all the same advantages of growing up in the most competitive of environments.
On Friday, the Tigers will take on Columbia, a team with only seven Pennsylvanians. Will that advantage translate to another league win? It certainly won’t hurt.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/27/31278/