Oct. 17, 2013
By Martina Barrera-Hernandez
Northwestern Athletic Communications
It wasn't that long ago that Northwestern head field hockey coach Tracey Fuchs found herself overseas recruiting for the first time. Since then, the Wildcats' team has expanded to embrace five international players, including three underclassmen starters, from across Europe.
For Lisa McCarthy, a sophomore from Dublin, Ireland, who was the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the apprehension of leaving her home in Ireland was outweighed by possibilities provided by not only Northwestern, but also the United States as a whole.
"I was really, really excited to come over because there are so many opportunities," McCarthy said. "It's not possible to play this level of hockey, with this level of professionalism, in any other country in the world."
Isabel Flens (Hattem, Netherlands), who has been named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice this season as well as the conference's Offensive Player of the Week, rounds up the idea by referring to NU's strength in academics.
"We have a very good team and academics are very high as well," Flens said. "Everything together is basically perfect."
Potential international players were drawn to the program at NU because they saw that the athletic department had prior experience with players from around the world.
"Having previous players that were international was a big influence," McCarthy said. "It meant that the team was already prepared to have international students. [Fuchs] is such an impressive coach and she knows a lot about international hockey. I think that understanding for us is a really big pull to come here."
Despite initial trepidations about fitting in with the team, Dominique Masters, a freshman from Canterbury, United Kingdom, recalls that the adjustment was largely positive.
"Within the first week of preseason, the entire team makes you feel welcome and you almost don't feel like an international anymore," Masters said. "I miss home a lot but I'm so happy here, with everything -- the school, the team, the coaches -- so I think that makes it easier."
Flens felt equally welcome.
"During preseason it just felt like we were in a big hockey camp for a month just playing and having fun with the other teammates showing us around in Evanston."
For Fuchs, it was clear from the beginning that this year's team was unique because of the distinct bond between all of the girls.
"This is one of the best teams I've ever had in all my years of coaching...and is really cohesive," Fuchs said. "They're very accepting."
Masters, who has also earned a Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor this season, believes that this team is particularly special and close, even off the field.
"There's never been a question about divide," Masters said. "Even the seniors have said they've never seen the team so close before."
Flens said that the girls' differences add to the team's strength and versatility.
"We start playing field hockey when we're five or six, and here they start at 12 or 14," Flens said. "We definitely bring our things -- different things -- from back home.
Similarly, McCarthy believes that it is helpful for both the Americans and international players to experience diversity.
"We may play a different style of hockey," McCarthy said, "or have a different mentality towards certain drills or the way we play in general."
The international players' diverse origins can also be credited with the ease with which they adapted to life at NU.
For McCarthy, being an international athlete allowed her to make connections more quickly, as other students were curious to find out about her background.
"Just having an accent is automatically a conversation starter," McCarthy said. "Which is such a nice thing because it automatically makes you feel like people are interested to know where you're from and what your story is."
Not only are fellow students curious about the accents of the international field hockey players, but also about the sport itself.
"I've met so many people who hadn't really heard of it," Masters said. "But they're so interested to come watch and they want to come and support."
According to Masters, this level of support and interest is unheard of in England unless you're playing at the highest level.
"That's what's so nice about playing here; people want to cheer you on."
Not only are Northwestern students and fans supportive, they are also appreciative.
"You have a leadership position being a woman playing a sport here," McCarthy said. "As a girl, everything is possible here. You can play a sport and people will respect you."
For Masters, McCarthy and Flens, along with sophomore Francesca Berry (United Kingdom) and freshman Juliet Beatty (Ireland), flying across the globe to play hockey did not solely entail switching homes. It meant immersing themselves in purple and feeling pride in it.
"[When you're] wearing a Northwestern field hockey shirt, going into Evanston, you feel [a] need to respect the colors," McCarthy said. "I think that's a nice privilege to have something you care for that people recognize and respect."
Fuchs agrees that once a player has learned Northwestern traditions, the differences between international and American students are not as important to the recruiting process.
"I'm looking for somebody who I can develop and fit into our culture of our team, which is hard work, enthusiasm, passion and team first [mentality]," Fuchs said. "So, if the internationals or Americans can do that, they're all welcome."
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