In a normal fall, the Princeton field hockey players would advance through their postseason, making another bid to reach the NCAA Final Four. This year, however, the newest members have had a starkly different experience 3,500 miles from Bedford Field.
The team’s five freshmen lived together in Kent, England, to play with the Sevenoaks Hockey Club, one of the district’s largest competitive hockey organizations.
“Once we heard we [wouldn’t] be coming back in the fall, we tried to figure out ways that we can be together and not have to separate,” said Robyn Thompson ’24, who is from Kent and was unable to enter the U.S. due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. “We considered going to other places like Australia. Then I had this idea: Why don’t they just come here?”
Within a week of Thompson’s invitation, four of her American classmates arrived: Liz Agatucci of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Gracie McGowan of Lake Forest, Illinois; Bridget Murphy of Summit, New Jersey; and Grace Schulze of Greenwich, Connecticut. The four knew one another from previous training camps and tournaments, but none of them had met Thompson before.
“I was terrified,” said Agatucci. “Not only was this my first time living on my own, we were navigating Princeton classes for the first time, managing a five-hour time difference, and training on our own.”
Unlike in the U.S., where teams are divided by age group, British teams are open to all ages. On the Sevenoaks women’s team they found retired professionals, including an Olympian, and budding players as young as 14 years old.
“I was shocked at how intense it was here,” said Agatucci. “I wasn’t really expecting that, considering it’s a club for all ages, but the pace is so much faster.”
“Each player on the team taught us something new,” said Murphy. The younger players showed passion, she said, and the older players “brought that IQ that just comes with time.”
Schulze said she worried about being among the youngest on the team, but found that playing with the older women increased her confidence and technical skills.
Despite missing out on their first Princeton field hockey season, the five freshmen were able to celebrate a successful season of their own. This fall, their club team finished second in the Division 1 National League’s regional tournament.
As they approached the end of their semester, the five were preparing to live on campus in the spring. Murphy said her parents told her that, especially as an athlete, she’ll never get another experience like this time in Kent.
“We’ve all been talking about it,” said McGowan. “When we’re older, we’re going to look back and tell our kids about our first semester abroad. What a weird, cool life experience.”