Q&A with Field Hockey's Riley Tata
Oct. 1, 2014
Sophomore striker Riley Tata had her first career hat trick Sunday against Vermont. She talks to VirginiaSports.com about the balanced scoring on this year’s team, the upcoming UNC game, meeting Mitt Romeny and the mark she left on places like the Dominican Republic as well as her plans for Spring Break 2015.
In Sunday’s victory over Vermont, you scored your first career hat trick. How exciting was that for you?
RT: Oh, yes, that was really exciting, especially since I was going through a streak where I wasn’t scoring at all, so I was getting kind of frustrated. I wanted to at least contribute on the forward line because that’s what I’m supposed to do for the team. So it was so exciting when I finally had my first goal after a couple games off. And then I just kept on going. I think it was the adrenaline. I was so excited to finally score again, because I felt like it had been so long, and help the team out. It was also big because it wasn’t selfish because a lot of girls were scoring, like Tollie [Bell] scoring her first goal. And other girls got assists too, like Liz [Stern-Green]. I was so proud of her for that.
How much have you enjoyed the current eight-game win streak?
RT: Last year, there were only a few girls who were scoring and they had all of the finishes, but this year, the whole team is contributing to the goals. And it’s not just the person that puts it in the net, it’s also the person that starts it from the back and then, by doing the system, moving the ball through the midfield then getting it to the forward line who will give it to another forward or now midfielders are scoring a lot. It’s so much nicer when it is the whole team that you can rely on and all of the pressure isn’t on one person. The whole team is stepping up their game and being in the right place at the right time. If a forward has to step back into a midfielder’s position, the midfielder can easily do the forwards job and finish. It shows in the fact we’ve scored over 40 goals this year, and that’s a huge thing because we are not just relying on one person, it’s the whole team.
You were one of the leading scorers last year so your excitement over the sharing of scoring seems a bit unusual.
RT: Well it is exciting for me because I know that I can set up other girls and that everyone will be able to finish. Yes, I do love scoring. I have always been a striker, and it’s my adrenaline rush finishing the ball, but it’s the whole process of getting the ball out of the back to the midfields, to the forwards, that whole system is what sets up that little touch that goes in. So to have many girls being in the right spot, means that everyone is sharing the work and it’s not being put on one person. We are lucky we have that all the girls are fit and ready to contribute.
You have had one of the most amazing starts to a career, scoring three goals on the first three shots of your collegiate career.
RT: Yeah that was so exciting because actually in high school, when I committed, I was so excited to come play at UVa, but I knew I was going to one of the top schools in the country and that the girls there really know how to play field hockey. I was just this girl who was a multi sport athlete who loved all of my sports. It wasn’t until my junior year that I really focused on field hockey. I knew all the other girls had been playing since they were children. So I didn’t think I was going to be playing much, but then [Coach Madison] put me in the first game. I’m like `Ok, I better do what I got to do.’ Especially for the first few minutes when coach is looking at you, you have to perform. And so I was just out there and they made the play up and I just tapped it in like I always do. And that was just an adrenaline rush because I was felt that I could hang with these girls. I mean our team has so much talent, so just to be able to play with them and hang with them is an honor. I love playing with them.
What have you been focusing on improving on during High Performance Training this summer and through preseason camp? And what has been the biggest difference between your game this year and last year?
RT: Last year I was a scrappy player. I mean I finished, but now I need to know how to control the ball and contribute to other girls scoring. I am also working on being able to handle the ball, beat a defender and deliver the ball to someone perfectly. That’s why I got so many chances last year, because the girls on the team knew how to do that. Now I want to assist more and give other girls the opportunities I had. It’s different because as the striker, I want to score all the time, but now you have to step back and say `maybe I don’t need to score, I need to step out and let someone else get in there and finish the opportunity.’ So I have improved in that way. Fitness will always be something that I will always need to get better at, because fitness it so important, especially in our system where it is constant running. That’s one thing I know I can always bring to the table, being quick out there, giving it my all, 100 percent of what I have out there.
You went to high school in Virginia Beach. How important was you to stay in Virginia or was it just the school itself that brought you here?
RT: Lucky enough for us from Virginia, Virginia has the top schools and I love where I live. But also my grandpa went to UVa and my dad was a kicker’s coach for the football team here, so there s a lot of UVa in my blood. Having the opportunity to come here was just an overall win and I was so excited. My grandpa was so excited. I’m so close to him and being able to go to the same school and having him and my grandma, as well as my aunt who lives in Charlottesville, come to my games, there is such a unity we have. I made my grandpa a hat for Christmas that says `Riley’s #1 fan’ on it. He brings his UVa hat and his `Riley’s #1 Fan’ hat to every game, but if I’m not doing well, he’ll take off the Riley hat and put on the UVa hat. But then if I am doing well, he’ll put the Riley hat back on. I mean he is a toughie, but I love him for that. He’ll never make it easy.
In addition to playing multiple sports in high school, you also spent several years volunteering on political campaigns. How long did you do that and what kinds of things did you do?
RT: I worked for four years on political campaigns. I was doing the calls and the door-to-doors, trying got get everyone out to vote. It is funny because it is something that I had no idea about, but I thought why not? But then I met Mitt Romney and had a conversation with him about running. So I was really excited about that because it got me more into the campaign and what it was all about and how crazy it can be. I don’t know if I would do it again, because it was a lot, going door-to-door and getting denied on the phone, but it was fun. Sometimes I would have long conversations with people who just want to talk to someone.
You have also done some international trips and humanitarian missions. Can you talk about those?
RT: I’ve been to India, Africa and the Dominican Republic. We went there and we would be in the worst parts of poverty and total slums. We got to meet these incredible people who had so much talent and share our stories and get to live their life. And when I went to Africa I was really into soccer. We went to the elementary school, did some Bible study with the kids and then we would get to play some soccer with them. I thought we would go over there and teach them some of our moves. But these little boys were dribbling all around us, totally beating us with their moves. They had so much talent. They were practicing on sand and cement, not a real field. And there were these mules on the field where we were practicing. You learn so much about yourself doing this. We were there for two weeks and had no technology. We were just there for those kids. I really poured my heart into it, which helped me learn so much more about myself.
When I went to India, that was a culture shock. We saw some of the worst conditions and then we also saw the Taj Mahal. There were places where people were really suffering. This was nothing like we were used to and nothing like where we live or how we live. I really fed off of it and want to do more, to contribute by going into those places and doing everything I can to bring them up and make them smile. I love to dance, so I would always dance with the girls and make sure that they felt happy and loved. I feel that everyone needs love and that is what we are there to do.
In the Dominican Republic, we were building a youth camp and I was doing masonry work. The place we were building was called Young Life and is a free camp that kids could go to. My job was laying down the cement, putting the rocks down on the cement and putting this up wall around this camp. I definitely got big muscles carry these huge rocks around everywhere. Even though I was just building a rock wall, I felt like this was a way I could make these kids happy. They’ll always look at this place and appreciate that it is a beautiful camp.
After doing all of these projects, you must have really enjoyed working on Habitat for Humanity builds in Charlottesville the last two years?
RT: Doing the Habitat for Humanity here has brought me back and made me remember my mission trips and makes me really want to go back. Macy Peebles and I have been talking about using our Spring Break to do Seeds of Hope in Brazil, which is a community service project where you help out communities down there. I feel like we are so blessed every single day. These trips really bring you back and humble you. They make you realize how lucky you are and how much you have.
What is the feeling going into the North Carolina game on Friday?
RT: My feeling is that we have a huge game coming up on Friday. We have had great success so far this season, but that is behind us. Now we have this big game on Friday. I feel that the whole team knows that every single day, every single practice is going to lead up to that game and our performance. So if we give it our all in practice, it is going to show on Friday. But if we really bring it every singe day in practice, it is really going to show and we are going to come together like we always do and perform well.