By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The ACC’s best field hockey players scattered after the 2013-14 school year. Most stayed in the United States for the summer, but one went home to the seaside town of Whitstable, England. There, she honed her stick skills in a local league and worked at The Duke of Cumberland pub. She also enjoyed the sights and sounds of Whitstable’s annual oyster festival.
“It was really fun,” Lucy Hyams said of her summer.
Alas, it’s time for Hyams, 20, to focus again on schoolwork and field hockey. Her second year at the University of Virginia began this week, and the 5-6 midfielder is looking to build on a fantastic first season in NCAA field hockey’s premier conference.
In 2013, Hyams was named ACC freshman of the year after scoring 21 points, on five goals and 11 assists, for a UVa team that advanced to the NCAA tournament.
Until she learned of that honor, Hyams said, she didn’t know it even existed.
“I think because I’m not American, I didn’t have any idea that they had all these awards,” she said, laughing. “Initially I didn’t really know what to think, I didn’t really know what it was. But then I kind of caught on to what it was. It was really kind of amazing to be honored like that.”
That Hyams, who represented England at the Junior World Cup last summer in Germany, made a significant contribution as a freshman did not surprise her head coach at Virginia.
“She’s very strong and very skilled and can penetrate defenses,” Michele Madison said this week.
Still, Madison said, to “be ACC freshman of the year, that’s a huge [deal] in our conference.”
Given that, Madison expected Hyams to be on the preseason All-ACC team, which was announced Wednesday. But freshman midfielder Tara Vittese was UVa’s lone representative on the 12-player team selected by the league’s head coaches.
“I think it was an oversight,” Madison said. “But Lucy will have to prove herself again, like every other athlete has to prove herself every day.”
The Cavaliers, who open the season Friday afternoon at William and Mary, have something to prove as well. In the preseason ACC poll, Virginia was picked to finish sixth in the seven-team league. Never mind that UVa is ranked No. 6 nationally in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association preseason poll.
Madison said she’s more worried about where her team finishes than where it starts in the rankings. But if the preseason poll “motivates us to prove to the ACC that they’re overlooking us,” that’s OK with her.
Virginia’s players are “very motivated,” said Madison, who in November was inducted into the NFHCA’s hall of fame.
They’re also, as a group, inexperienced. Of the 23 players on the Cavaliers’ roster, 10 are sophomores and seven freshmen. The only seniors are goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone, midfielder Jess Orrett and backs Maddie DeCerbo and Kelsey LeBlanc.
“The positive is that we could implement some new things,” Madison said of having so many underclassmen. “We could change the attack a little bit, change the defense a little bit, to present a different look. So that was easier to incorporate, because they’re so young.”
And the challenges?
“There’s a lot of excitement, that’s for sure, and a lot of laughing,” Madison said. “I felt like I was at hockey day care yesterday.”
Orrett, who’s from Wells, England, played with Hyams on their country’s under-16 and under-18 teams. Orrett’s experience at UVa piqued Hyams’ interest in attending college in the United States. Madison’s assistants then included Michael Boal, an Englishman who began recruiting Hyams for the `Hoos.
“I liked the idea of not having to choose one subject outright to study, which is very different [from] at home,” recalled Hyams, who has yet to choose a major at UVa. “When you’re 18 [in England], you go to university and you do one subject for three years. So I liked the idea of getting to know what I wanted to do and taking a little bit longer to figure out what I was interested in.
“In terms of the hockey, I’d been in the England system for a long period of time, like four or five years, and I’d kind of got to the stage where I needed a break. I thought my best break would be to come and try something new, and this was kind of my best option.”
Until last summer, Hyams had been to America only once, for several days, on her official visit to UVa.
“I didn’t really have that many expectations,” she recalled, “because prior to coming here before preseason I didn’t really have time to think. I’d literally just finished the Junior World Cup, so I didn’t really have time to consider what it might be like [in the U.S.]. And then as soon as I got here, I was thrown into preseason. You just don’t have time to think.
“It was kind of nice not to have expectations and just kind of go with the flow a little bit.”
As a UVa second-year, she’s more familiar with her surroundings, and that’s a positive, Hyams said.
“Having a year here really helped me kind of settle in and get used to things and get to know American culture a little bit better, and just how things work, really,” she said.
Her first college season ended on a disappointing note. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Massachusetts upset Virginia 4-3 in overtime.
“We had a lot of talented players last year, and I think during the season we played some of the best hockey that was really possible for us, and unfortunately it didn’t really work out at the end,” Hyams said. “Hopefully this year we can change that. I hope that we can kind of peak at the end of the season, when it really matters. I think we’ve got a really, really good chance.”
With her international experience, Hyams is not a typical sophomore. Teammates such as Vittese and Nadine de Koning, a freshman from Netherlands, are similarly seasoned, and so they’ll “have to really rise to the top [this season], regardless of their age,” Madison said.
Hyams returned to Charlottesville this summer “extremely fit and focused,” Madison said. “She’s got to run the system now, run the systems on attack and defense. She’s in the middle of the field, so her effort and her work rate is critical to the team’s tempo.”
The core of this team should be together for the next three seasons, which bodes well for the future of UVa field hockey. The Cavaliers advanced to the Final Four in 2009 and ’10, and the program’s goals remain as high as ever.
“That’s what we’re building [toward],” Madison said. “With youth you never know. Consistency is also always a challenge, but we’ll see. They believe, that second-year class. They came with the intention of winning championships. They haven’t let up in any way with that focus.”