In Time of Transition, Field Hockey Finds Best Start in Years

Behind a new coaching staff and 12 talented underclass students, the field hockey team is already having their best season since 2014 — and they’ve only played two games.

With a 1–0 win against Ferrum College and a 2–0 win against Sweet Briar College, the Yeowomen have collected multiple victories in a single season for the first time since 2014 and two consecutive victories for the first time since 2010.

The roster is largely made up of underclass students after graduating seven seniors this past spring. The team now has four seniors and one junior compared to six sophomores and six first-years. Captained by College seniors Luisa McGarvey and Libby Royer and College junior Reet Goraya, the Yeowomen hope to surprise opposing teams after posting a 1-17 record a year ago.

“They’ve brought about a new momentum,” Interim Head Field Hockey Coach Jess West said. “They’ve really come together as a team and continued to work hard as a unit. [They know] that games are going to be challenging here on out, but they’re really excited to keep the momentum they have and to move forward and see what comes with the rest of the season.”

West, who was the assistant coach to Tiffany Saunders last year, took the program over after Saunders announced in the middle of June that she had accepted a position with Youth Enrichment Services in Pennsylvania.

Although the announcement was a shock to many of the players on the team, West emphasized that there has been continuity through the transition.

“There’s still a lot of core values,” she said. “The coaching techniques and things that we’re working on are still very similar.”

One of the things that Saunders valued most was team chemistry, which West has worked hard to maintain.

“Everybody meshes like a family,” she said. “If you can create an athletic team that’s ultimately a family, you’ll have success on and off the field, whether the wins are there or not.”

When the team bus broke down on the way to their weekend trip last week and West and her players arrived at their hotel later than expected, West used the experience as a teaching lesson.

“My motto this season is ‘adapt and overcome,’” she said. “There are things that are going to happen. There are things that are going to be unfortunate, and you can’t do anything about it in the moment. We really made it into a team bonding experience. The [players] got to see a fun side of me — just to keep the mood light and easy.”

Adapt and overcome seems apt for a team with so many different backgrounds bringing players to the field. College sophomore Audrey Kamal discovered field hockey during her junior year of high school, but didn’t have the opportunity to try the sport out until arriving at Oberlin. According to Kamal, she coincidentally befriended a number of students who were on the team, and they encouraged her to join.

“They were like, ‘Join the team. It’s not that uncommon,’” she said. “I was like, ‘You’re all [nuts]. That’s not a thing. No one joins a sport they’ve never played before in college. You’re funny.’ But by spring of last year, I met more people who were saying, ‘It’s happened before. You won’t be the first.’”

Kamal ended up mentioning her desire to join the team to Saunders while they took the same circuit training class. She told Saunders she had never picked up a field hockey stick but could run well. Saunders told Kamal to grab one and she would find a place to put her.

While working a few jobs in Oberlin over the summer, Kamal worked on stick skills with McGarvey and taught herself the game by watching YouTube videos, specifically a channel called Hockey Heroes.

“I would go out on the field here, move the goal into a section, and then just hit at it for like an hour or two and then go home and watch YouTube or watch games,” Kamal said. “I thought I would be seen as the weird sophomore who has never played before, but it wasn’t like that. I was completely accepted by everyone, including first-years. When I mess up, [everyone] is just like, ‘It’s OK, it’ll come.’”

Accepting one another and radiating positivity and love is the legacy that the field hockey team hopes to leave behind — although Goraya assures that they would like to add some more wins to their record this year as well.

“It definitely feels like we’re off to a great start, and I’m really excited to keep the ball rolling and keep winning a lot more throughout the season,” Goraya said. “It feels like a new team and a fresh start, which is really amazing and an energy that we haven’t felt in the past [several] years — or at least since I’ve been here.”

McGarvey said she thinks the team has what it takes to get over the hump this year and finally collect some wins against North Coast Athletic Conference opponents.

“I think being confident in ourselves that we know how to play our game and not stooping down to the level of our opponents will help us get over the hump this year,” she said. “We have always been a very close-knit team that is extremely supportive of each other, which really helps keep us all encouraged.”

At 12 p.m. tomorrow, the field hockey team will look to record their third win of the season at Centre College in Danville, KY. The team will then travel to Lexington to play Transylvania University the next day.