With the game against Marquette Catholic High School still tied after ten minutes of overtime play, the CHS field hockey team prepared for shoot-outs.
Five players from each team arranged themselves at the 25-yard line, and CHS’ substitute goalkeeper stood anxiously in the net.
With the varsity team’s starting goalkeeper sick, the whole team was on edge, but the substitute stopped two of the opposing team’s most talented players.
When it was the last player’s turn to shoot, the score was 3-2, and Clayton needed senior Kate Cooper to score in order to bring Clayton back to a tie.
Cooper had 10 seconds to bring the ball into the circle and score. When the whistle blew, she immediately approached Marquette’s goalkeeper. There was no time for any special maneuver or carefully-executed plan. She had to shoot.
“I went to pull the ball in, and it got stuck in the grass and I just didn’t hit it hard enough,” Cooper said.
The ball went just wide of the net. The game was over.
“I was so disappointed in myself,” Cooper said. “If I would have just made it, we would have had another round of shoot outs and another opportunity to win. I always want to be successful at what I do, and I always want to try as hard as I can, and I just didn’t feel like I tried as hard as I could have or fulfilled my team’s expectations.”
The team, however, felt very differently.
“In games and at practice, Kate is always trying her hardest. Even when she’s tired, she is always trying her hardest,” freshman teammate Cece Cohen said. “I most admire how Kate leaves everything on the field.”
And Cooper’s coach, Alexis Lindblad, agreed.
“Kate’s biggest strength is her tenacity on the field. She never gives up and is always working hard to win,” Linbald said.
Although Cooper was certainly upset about the results of the shoot-out, she was able to quickly spin the negative experience into a learning experience.
“Really the only thing you can do without driving yourself crazy is resolve to do better next time. I told myself that next time I would make it. It wouldn’t be an option,” Cooper said.
It is this resolve that has allowed Cooper to be so successful throughout her two years on the field hockey team. While most of Clayton’s players first explored field hockey in elementary or middle school, Cooper did not begin playing until her junior year, and she had a lot to learn before she was ready to get on the field.
Fortunately, Cooper was able to translate some of the skills that she had developed from 11 years of soccer into the new challenge presented by field hockey.
“Starting field hockey was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be because it is the exact same formation as soccer, so I was able to play the same position, and a lot of the aspects of field hockey and soccer are the same: passing, giving and going, sending to the corner and putting the ball in the circle,” Cooper said. “The only thing that is different is that field hockey isn’t so confined. When you have possession of a soccer ball, you have to keep it right at your feet, but with a field hockey ball, you can keep it wider or on any side, so it’s a lot easier, in my opinion, to maintain possession and to move.”
In fact, the only differences between the two sports with which Cooper truly struggled pertained to the nuances of field hockey.
“Stick skills are the most challenging for me. The other girls have a lot of experience doing little moves with their sticks like pulls or holding the ball on the stick or lifting the ball over another player’s stick, which are things that I’m just not as comfortable with,” Cooper said. “I can do it when I’m standing still and concentrating on it, but incorporating stick skills into my normal game play is definitely a challenge for me.”
But Cooper quickly figured out how to make up for the technical skills she initially lacked.
“A lot of the time, you don’t need big pulls or lifts to get around someone. If I look up and see where their stick is, I will hit the ball directly to their right or in between their legs. Anyone can look up and think, ‘Where should I put it?’ and then a little tap and a sprint around an opposing player is enough,” Cooper said.
As Cooper incorporated this strategy into her daily play, her coach and teammates began to see connections between her playing style on the field and her personality off the field.
“Kate’s playing style is very scrappy. [It] definitely shows in her playing style. She is so competitive, which is a great quality to have in field hockey. No matter if she is on the sideline or on the field, Kate is constantly pushing her teammates to do better,” Lindblad said.
What is evident from the sidelines is even more powerful on the field.
“Kate never gives up. If someone takes the ball away from her, she will not give up on getting the ball back,” Cohen said. “Kate has made me want to participate in more activities. She is a friend both on and off the field.”
One way that Cooper reaches out as a friend on the field is through communication.
“Kate is a vocal leader,” Lindblad said. She is constantly encouraging and communicating with her teammates on and off the field. She is not afraid to jump into any situation and take charge. That contagious competitive drive helps push the rest of the team to work hard too.”
Although beneficial for the team, that contagious competitive drive occasionally hurts Cooper in games.
“I do get a fair amount of fouls called on me,” Cooper said. “I try to block players by turning my body toward the ball to make sure that they can’t get it. Oftentimes, they’ll get frustrated if you block it, and they’ll end up hitting you from behind, which means that your team gets possession. But other times, I get the foul.”
Fortunately, Cooper understands the issue and can even trace it back to the roots: soccer.
“You can’t be aggressive in field hockey as you can be in soccer. It’s not really a contact sport at all. I just have to always remind myself what sport I’m playing. It’s a whole new type of playing. It’s less aggressive and more skillful. You can’t win the ball by being physically aggressive. You just have to have the skill and the ability to keep your composure,” Cooper said.
And after two years of playing, that is just what Cooper had learned to do.
“I really try as hard as I can to not give up when I lose the ball or when I feel like I’m not playing well. If younger team members and the JV team members see seniors or varsity players giving up the ball and then not giving everything to get it back, then they will feel inclined to do the same, which is bad for team effort as a whole,” Cooper said.
As the season progresses, Cooper hopes to continue improving her stick skills and to embrace the precision of the sport before she returns to playing soccer in the spring.
“The field hockey stick is really just an extension of you,” she said.
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