Four years ago, Beth Yeager ’26 sat in her living room watching the United States women’s field hockey team play an Olympic qualifying match against India. The U.S. needed to win by four goals to qualify, and Yeager’s heart sank when India scored a late goal to prevent exactly that.
“I think that was one of the moments where I was like, I really want to get to the level where I can go on the field and I can help the U.S. qualify,” she said.
Now, Yeager is one of two players with Princeton ties competing in Olympic qualifying tournaments this month, along with Canadian defender Elise Wong ’19. Yeager and the U.S. will play in one tournament in Ranchi, India, while Wong and Canada are at the other in Valencia, Spain. Both teams advanced to the qualifying tournaments with top-four finishes at the 2023 Pan American Games, and they’ll make the Olympics with a top-three finish this month.
Wong has played for Canada since 2018, earning 39 “caps,” or appearances, across the outdoor and indoor national teams. She was on the outdoor team for the 2019 Olympic qualifying tournament, but her role is much bigger this time around.
“It’s different from 2019, where I was mainly a sub, to now, where I’m in the starting lineup and have a spot on the field that’s ‘my own,’” she said.
Yeager, a midfielder who scored 12 goals for the Tigers in 2022 and has 36 international caps, took the 2023-24 academic year off from Princeton to train with the national team. Over the past six months, she’s improved from facing players who are up to 10 years older than her.
Between competitions, Yeager and the U.S. train in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s “a little bit of a nine-to-five style,” she said, with practices and workouts on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Wong and her Canadian teammates are based in Vancouver and follow a cyclical schedule: a few weeks of intense training, followed by a week of recovery and a week ramping back up.
In September, the teams played two test matches before the Pan American Games. Yeager and Wong both started the first match, and though they don’t know each other well, they were aware of each other’s presence. “We often find ourselves, I feel like, going against each other,” Yeager said.
At the Pan American Games, the U.S., currently ranked 15th in the world, nearly won gold to qualify directly for the Olympics, but it fell 2-1 to world No. 3 Argentina in the final. Canada, the world No. 16, finished fourth.
After the Olympic qualifiers, Yeager and the U.S. will remain in India to compete in the FIH Pro League, an international competition between nine women’s national teams. Wong, meanwhile, will prepare for two more qualifiers: for the Indoor World Cup as a player and for the Masters World Cup as a coach.
Yeager and Wong started their journeys to qualifying last summer, more than a year before the Olympics. It’s a long time to be in limbo, not knowing if your team will qualify or if you’ll make the final roster. For Yeager, managing that is about focusing on improving each day, while Wong tries to focus on the end goal and block out the noise.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Wong said, “but we can know that we’re going through that together and that we’re … going through these uncertain times because we’re trying to accomplish something big.”
For Canada, qualifying would be historic: The Wolfpack, as they’re known, haven’t made the 12-team field since 1992.
“That would mean the world to me,” Wong said. “Beyond just my personal dreams … that would be a huge step not just for our team, but for field hockey in the community, field hockey in the country.”
The U.S. is seeking its first Olympic appearance in eight years and its first medal since 1984. And Yeager is finally getting the chance she dreamed of to help rewrite the U.S. team’s story.
“[Making the Olympics] would probably be,” Yeager said, “the highlight of my life so far.”