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    Striving For Greatness

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    By Nikki Parsley

     

    Northwestern junior Nikki Parsley is currently competing for Team USA at the Four Nations Tournament in New Zealand. As her journey winds to a close, she checks in with another update.

     

    On the 22nd day of my trip "I Love It" by Icona Pop routinely flooded my ears. As the alarm sounded, I half consciously rolled out of bed, and noted that my legs ached, but only dully.  This was progress, because over the past few days my body had pleaded, on more than one occasion, that I stop the madness. 

     

    While I have certainly pushed myself physically throughout my field hockey career at Northwestern, playing at the international level requires a new level of fitness entirely. I have observed throughout the tournament that all of the top players in the world share something special in common: they are comfortable being uncomfortable. Even when they walk off the pitch after a 70-minute match, they never show signs of discomfort. While I realize that these women are all in unbelievable shape, I think that this is more of a mental skill than physical ability. This is an attitude that I desire to possess. In fact, this is a mentality I must possess to have success at this level. I am learning that the internal drive to push boundaries is one of the most powerful tools I can add to my arsenal.

     

    As I spent a significant amount of reflecting on this newfound understanding, I was reminded of a scene from "A League of Their Own." As cheesy as recalling this may be, it is the best way I can convey my thoughts.

     

    Jimmy Dugan: Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that.

    Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

    Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

     

    Calling international field hockey challenging is an understatement. But, Jimmy Dugan said it precisely: the hard is what makes it great. The hard pushes me to get up and fight through a mistake I have made too many times. The hard challenges me to make one more recovery sprint at the end of game eight. The hard is what fuels my desire to relentlessly chase the people at the top of the game. 

     

    I am convinced that I have yet to fully comprehend all that this trip has set in motion. I know that I am on the verge of something. Is it success or failure? This I do not know, but of something else I am certain - "I am ready to risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise, and dream more than others think is practical." This trip has reaffirmed my desire to make the national team and eventually represent my country at the Olympics. I am unbelievably thankful for this tour, because I now have a better understanding of what it takes to get where I want to go.

    Parsley Represents USA at Four Nations Tourney

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    By Nikki Parsley

     

    Greetings from New Zealand!

     

    Days after my first cap, as I try to recount my experience it is unbelievably difficult to capture the thoughts, feelings, and emotions I felt. Words will never do justice this experience.

     

    On April 10, 2013 at 5:30 p.m., I stepped onto a field hockey pitch in New Zealand wearing a red, white, and blue jersey. While the scene felt vaguely familiar, there was an unprecedented excitement coursing through my body. Unlike any other game I had previously competed in, the stakes were much higher, the players on the field were some of the top in the world, and I got to represent my country at the highest level possible. This benchmarked a point in my career I had been working towards for as long as I can remember.

     

    As I stood at the center of the field anticipating the starting whistle, I began to understand the magnitude of the game. Not only was this my first cap, but we also were playing the second-ranked team in the world, and one of our biggest rivals, Argentina. In a brief moment it hit me that I was standing on the same turf as the players I frequently searched on Google and YouTube.

     

    It was then that I realized my mentality had to change. These people were no longer abstract players running around on a computer screen, but opponents I was tasked with defending and attacking. A few moments later the whistle sounded and players took off in separate directions across the field. For the next 70 minutes I sprinted around and barely had time to catch a breath. The pace of the game was faster than any speed I had ever played at before, which demanded quicker reactions. Although I was physically tired, I was more mentally exhausted at the end of the game.  I learned quickly that playing at this level means you have to be mentally checked in at all times.

     

    This game was the most exhilarating, yet exhausting match I had ever been apart of. Although we lost 3-0, and I realized that I have room to improve my physical and mental skill sets, I absolutely loved every second of playing at the international level. I have always dreamt of representing my country on the national team, but I had no idea that it would be this amazing. 

     

    Put simply: I have never been more excited to play field hockey.

     

    While this trip has sparked a new excitement and love for the game, I have also been absorbing as much information as possible. Being surrounded by six Olympians and an experienced coaching staff is invaluable. One of my favorite parts of the tour has been listening and learning from their experiences and advice. Needless to say, I have been busy scribbling down lots of notes that I will carry with me wherever I go.

     

    With the first Four Nations tournament coming to a close, and the next series about to start in a few hours, I am excited to take the field again.  We open with Korea at 5 p.m. Wednesday (12:00 a.m. Central Time).

    GO USA!

    Fuel Up to Play 60 with Reggie Hearn

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    By Jocelyn Vinoya Serranilla

     

     

    Reggie Hearn must have anticipated the crowd's reaction to his bold declaration on his eating habits growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Hearn, who has been fearless in adversity on the basketball court, finishing last season as the leading scorer on the Wildcats' men's basketball team, brought the same bold and fearless demeanor at River Trails Middle School when he challenged his audience to eat right, get enough sleep and stay active. 

     

    "I'm like a lot of you, guys. My mom always taught me to eat Brussels sprouts and all those green vegetables," Hearn declared. The crowd erupted, "Awwww! Brussels sprouts!"

     

    Unabashed by the uproar, Hearn continued to press his case for a healthy lifestyle to the sixth, seventh and eighth graders who have packed the school gym in suburban Mt. Prospect on Friday, April 12. "Yeah! I was like, "Uh! Brussels sprouts!" He said he reacted the same way when his mom used to feed him veggies but admitted "those green vegetables really helped me. I've been eating right and that helped me become the player that I am today."

     

    His transformation from a walk-on his freshman year to starter and scholarship player his junior year, Hearn acknowledged his success as a collective effort. "There are a lot of people who remind me to eat right. We have a nutritionist at Northwestern who is helping me out, reminding me to eat my vegetables, to eat breakfast. Sometimes I just want to eat ice cream, but that's not good for me as an athlete." Hearn also reminded the kids to get enough sleep as part of their health regimen. "That's going to help you stay healthy in the long run."

                                        

    Hearn's visit kicked off a morning assembly at the suburban middle school where students and teachers danced, hula-hooped, jumped rope, played volleyball and basketball, ate fresh green salads and participated in games geared towards creating awareness to a healthy lifestyle. It was a day dedicated to Fuel Up to Play 60, a nationwide program sponsored by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League to help prevent childhood obesity, encouraging participants to make healthy food choices, to stay active and exercise for at least 60 minutes a day.  

     

    Hearn's bubbly personality won over his audience and by the time he announced, "I think I'm sticking around for a while, so let's fuel up to play 60," most kids, both boys and girls have milled around him, jumping to high-five the Wildcats' recipient of the Big Ten's Sportsmanship Award for 2012-13, and asking him questions mostly about how tall he was and who his favorite NBA player was.  Hearn's 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound frame was all the middle school students needed as proof that eating vegetables must really work.

     

    From the general assembly, the students broke up in smaller stations in various classrooms, which Hearn each visited.  He gave them a glimpse of how much he enjoyed his fruits and vegetables at the school cafeteria where he munched on chopped broccoli, spinach, lettuce, apples, tomatoes and onions as students stood in line with pens and papers asking for his autograph.  The nutritionist sensed his magical effect on the kids. "Ask them to eat butternut squash," she whispered while handing him a cup of chopped salad.  Hearn obliged to the nutritionist's request, at which point he turned to his captive audience, "eat butternut squash and I'll give you my autograph."  All the kids were undeterred by the trade-off challenge of butternut-squash-for-Reggie Hearn-autograph. No one left the line.

     

    All morning at RTMS, Hearn not only declared, "I'm excited to be here," but showed it in everything he did with the kids. He sashayed on the dance floor, arms up in the air as he made his way into the music room where students and teachers danced to the beat of Katy Perry's "California Gurls." There were giggles all around, energizing the room even more.

     

    Hearn was the second Northwestern Wildcat student-athlete to grace Fuel Up to Play 60 at River Trails. Former basketball standout John Shurna helped kick-off the school's inaugural program last year. School principal Keir Rogers quipped during his introduction of Hearn, "I like basketball, obviously!" 

     

    Rogers lauded Hearn's accomplishments as a walk-on. "I don't know him personally but he must have resolute toughness because he eventually earned a scholarship. Most student-athletes are recruited and offered scholarships but this student-athlete walked on, meaning he tried out for the team, which is not easy to do in the Big Ten."

     

    Rogers, himself a former basketball player, urged the students to talk to Hearn. "Go ahead, ask him questions, ask him about being a student-athlete because it's very important that you look up to people like Reggie and say, 'You know what, I aspire to do something great like what he's doing right now.' He's in school, he's doing something beyond basketball."

     

    Hearn's sprouts have truly blossomed on and off the basketball court.

    Collins Takes the Reins

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski was on hand Tuesday as new Northwestern head men's basketball coach Chris Collins was introduced to the media.

     

     

    The father, as a player, had performed always with a fire burning in his belly, and it remained there still even after he retired and was doing little more than facing off against his young son in their family's driveway. He would roughly jostle the boy there in their games of one-on-one, he would mercilessly drill the boy there in their games of H-O-R-S-E, and never, ever, would he concede and let the boy win.

     

    "But you're supposed to let me win," the boy would whine after many of those games.

     

    "Your first instinct as a parent is to protect your son," the father would once say, thinking back on those moments. "But life's not that way. You get bumped. You fall down. And the measure of a man is how you handle hurdles in life."

     

    The boy, even then, was undaunted by life's many hurdles and so he stayed after his dad, stayed after him ardently and finally beat him when he was a blossoming 14 years-old. "I was trying to hold him. But my (once injured) leg (which ended his career) wouldn't go," the father, Doug Collins, would remember of that moment.

     

    "It was fierce," remembered the boy, new 'Cat basketball coach Chris Collins. "He wasn't about to give over the reins. There were some elbows thrown. It was pretty ugly. It was a great moment. He was pretty mad. . . But I'm glad (he raised me that way). I think that just made me real competitive as a young kid, and ever since then I've loved challenges. Some people have said, 'He can't do this.' 'He's too small.' 'He's too slow.' 'He can't really jump.' I look at all those things as challenges, but I've always been pretty confident in my own abilities. Not to the point of being cocky. But I've always believed in my ability to do things. I just try to go out and not prove people wrong. But to show people I can do it."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    Those memories were offered up over a decade ago, back when Chris Collins was a callow freshman guard at Duke. Yet they aptly explicate the foundation of the 38-year old man who was officially introduced as Bill Carmody's successor on Tuesday at a press conference at Welsh-Ryan Arena. "The guys will find out, it's going to be tough work," he said there at one point, testifying to that truth. "We're going to get after it on the court. Anyone who knows my personality knows that's who I've always been as a player and as a coach. We're going to have to step up and compete. We're not going to back down."

     

    "I understand there's a lot of work to be done," he more tellingly said at another point. "I'm not afraid of that. I'm a competitor. When I went to Glenbrook North (where he was named Illinois Mr. Basketball as a senior), they'd never done anything in basketball. People wanted me to go to other high schools because they didn't think I could win there. We started a culture there and it became one of the best basketball programs on the North Shore and still is to this day. Certainly when I went to Duke it was already established. But I had to go through tough times there as well. My junior year, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) got sick (and didn't coach the second half of the season) and we went from the national championship game to last place in one year. Then my senior year, we had a group of guys, we had to dig down and get the program going again.

     

    "So I'm not afraid of the work that needs to be done. I'm ultra-competitive. I'm passionate about what I do. To me, in life, if you love doing something, you want people to know about it. I know when I played, I was real energetic on the court, and some people liked it and some people didn't. But I always wanted the world to know I loved what I was doing. It's no different in coaching. I love coaching. . .(and) we're going to build a winner. I'm confident. I'm excited. But I also know it's going to take work. I'm not afraid of the work I'm going to have to do to get this thing going. I'm in it for the long haul."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    His experience stretches beyond Duke, where he was an assistant for the last 13 years. That is one thing to remember about Chris Collins, who also played in Finland, assisted Nancy Lieberman in the WNBA and served on Krzyzewski's staff while the latter guided the U.S. men to gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics. That explains why, on Tuesday, his father would say, "He's ready. He's ready to roll. He's been ready for awhile. If you guys had the chance to see him with the U.S. Olympic team and see him coaching the pros, and the opportunities that Coach K has given him-- the thing that Coach K has done along the way, not only has he developed these guys as men, but as an assistant coach, you coach. You don't just recruit. You're on the floor coaching. That sometimes gets lost in the, 'Well, he's never been a head coach.' Well, nor was I when I came to Chicago at 36 (to take over as coach of the Bulls). Somebody's got to give you your first opportunity. Dr. (Jim) Phillips (the 'Cat AD) and Mr. (Morty) Shapiro (the school president) have given him that opportunity, and I know he's going to run with it."

     

    He is also a realist. That is one more thing to remember about Chris Collins, who knows full well that many have opined that the 'Cat facilities have hampered their quest for basketball success. "My goal for Welsh-Ryan is let's make it a heck of a home-court advantage," he would say Tuesday. "Let's get these seats packed. Let's get everybody wearing purple. Let's see what it's like when you have 8,000-plus people in here going crazy for Northwestern basketball. . . If you walk into Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke's playpen), no one goes in there and talks about how state-of-the-art it is. You talk about the atmosphere because of the people that are in it, and the hunger of the crowd, and the excitement. That's what we have to build. We have to put a product on the floor the people are going to be excited about."

     

    He is, in addition, a pragmatist. This is one more thing to remember about Chris Collins, who was taught by the master basketball minds of both his father and Mike Krzyzewski. "One thing I believe about coaching is you should tailor what you do based on your personnel," he would say Tuesday, echoing the approach of those mentors. "I will create a system that I feel is going to benefit the pieces we have. I don't believe in having a strict system you plug guys into year-after-year. That's not how I coach. I want to showcase my star players, my best players. I want to put them in a position to be successful, and then complement them with the right pieces."

     

    He is, finally, just where he wants to be. That is the final thing to remember about Chris Collins, whose emotions were palpable enough on Tuesday that his voice sometimes cracked as he answered questions. "It's a dream come true," he said at one of those moments. "To be in basketball my whole life and to now be sitting up here as the head coach of Northwestern of the Big Ten, the highest level of college basketball, it's pretty overwhelming-- in a good way. I just think how hard I've worked to get here. It's a special day, for sure. . .

     

    "You may all talk about going to the NCAA Tournament and those things and, sure, that's going to be a great milestone when we get there. But my goal is to build a top-notch basketball program. I want to be here for a long, long time. It's exciting for me to put my imprint on this university, on this school. It's an exciting day. It's a good day. It's a good day. I'm really excited to be here and I can't wait to get to work."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    The father, on Tuesday, is reminded of those games they played so long ago on the family's driveway, and he smiles. "He's a competitor. He's been around a competitive dad. He's always been in a competitive environment," Doug Collins then says. "I never let him beat me in horse or any of those games. To me, that's false praise and to me false praise sometimes is much more deadly than the truth. Because kids start thinking this is the way it is when the truth is, 'You know what, you've got a long way to go.' I mean, if Chris were afraid of challenges, he never would have gone to Duke. Everyone said he would never play at Duke. But he went down there, scored a thousand-something points, started on a Final Four team, became the bridge with the other guys when Coach K got sick to get them back to the NCAA Tournament, and then sat next to Coach K for 13 years. So he's been around competitiveness, and that's what this is about."

     

    The son also smiles when reminded of those games. "It made me the competitor I am," Chris Collins then says. "He never let me win at anything. That was a lesson. So you know when you win, you've earned it. So even though I didn't know it, and I was crying a lot and was upset, it feels that much better when you win because you know nothing was given to you."

     

    And did those games help prepare him for his new challenge here?

     

    "Absolutely," he finally says. "I feel, I've been so fortunate my whole life to be around basketball and great coaches and players, everything I've learned has prepared me for this day. Now it's on me to take it and run with it."