To say that the 2014 Michigan field hockey season was a disappointment for Caroline Chromik would be an understatement.
After appearing in all 20 of the Wolverines’ games her sophomore season, the redshirt junior defensive midfielder missed her entire junior year with a knee injury.
Now that she has a clean bill of health and has been awarded a redshirt year, she is ready to start helping her team on the field again.
“Being off for a year and then coming back, my first game I remember the pregame jitters were incredible,” Chromik said. “It made me realize that my opportunity to play here is something very valuable, and not everyone gets the chance, so it made me feel very fortunate and it put things in perspective.”
Though she started her career as an outright defender, Chromik will see more time at midfield this year. She wants to be able to anticipate plays and be a more aggressive player this season, though her role on the team is still mainly a defensive one.
“Sitting out for an entire year makes me realize my skills are rusty,” Chromik said. “But there are things I can control regardless of how good a field hockey player I am, like work ethic, so intercepting balls and being a really aggressive player is something I think I’ve become even more (since) sitting out.”
Chromik’s position on the field is not the only change in her contributions to the team. Voted captain by her teammates for the 2014 season, she matured into a more vocal leader on the team because her injury kept her from helping her teammates on the field.
“I think it’s always hard for anyone as a competitor in college to have such a serious injury and have to sit on the sidelines,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “Their role abruptly changes from being an important player on the field to their role being someone who is now in a support role on the sideline and that’s really hard. … It gives you a different perspective and has made her a better player and a better leader.”
Added Chromik: “I had to be vocal even when I didn’t want to. I didn’t know that role, but I had to break out of my shell in that way. It’s good, because it has translated over onto the field now and I’m not afraid to speak what I think, and I think the team respects a lot of what I say now that I have experience both on and off the field.”
Chromik’s return adds one more key piece to an already strong defense. The unit — with senior Lauren Thomas and redshirt senior Mackenzie Ellis starting on the back line — looks to be one of the foundations of the team this season. However, Pankratz admits the season is still young and the team is in the process of finding its identity after five games
As the season progresses, Chromik will be looking to take the lessons she learned from her time on the sidelines and make an impact on the field once again.