Many athletes who come to Michigan from different countries go through a period of adjustment to get used to their new surroundings and the traditions that go along with them.
For the Michigan field hockey team’s Veerle Lubbers, a sophomore from Arnhem, Netherlands, one American tradition has stood out as especially strange.
“It’s definitely the pumpkin carving,” Lubbers said. “I found out about it this Halloween. I tried the pumpkin carving myself, and I do not have the patience for it, to tell you the truth. I got frustrated, but it turned out my pumpkin that I picked was not a good one because it was yellow. Maybe that was it, because it was really thick and I could not cut through.”
Though some of the United States’ stranger holiday traditions may not make sense to Lubbers, the midfielder has had no trouble adjusting to playing in the States.
“Especially in Holland, where she’s from, field hockey is their No. 1 sport,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “They start playing field hockey when they are maybe 3 years old, so it’s like a basic motor skill for them. They learn it really early. Our players in the United States don’t really pick up a stick and play until they’re maybe 12, 13, 14 years old.”
On the field, Lubbers had an instant impact despite being in a system with completely different tactics than the one she grew up playing in. Accoding to Lubbers, Dutch players spend a lot of time focusing on stick skills while her time at Michigan has been very focused on being fit.
Last August, Lubbers made her debut against then-No. 2 North Carolina and went on to start all 20 games for the Wolverines while setting the team record for assists in a season. This season, Lubbers has continued her strong play in the midfield — her nine assists in 19 starts this campaign are good for second on the team.
“She reads the game really well,” Pankratz said. “Her instincts are really good and strong because she has been playing for so long at a high level.”
Saturday, Lubbers will help lead the 10th-ranked Wolverines into the NCAA Tournament against No. 7 Wake Forest.
Throughout her time at Michigan, her teammates have been there to support her any time she needed help, on or off the field.
“My teammates helped me out really well,” Lubbers said. “I mean, of course transitioning to school was difficult with all the new words that I had to learn for all the subjects, especially for biology and all that, but they were really helpful.”
In playing field hockey for an American university, Lubbers has an opportunity she wouldn’t have in the Netherlands. In her home country, academics and athletics are completely separate, making scheduling conflicts more difficult to work around.
“Here, (athletics and academics are) connected, so they understand each other,” Lubbers said. “If we have to travel, the teachers understand I am on the team here and you can make up for it another time.”
Lubbers is still transitioning to her new home, but pumpkins aside, it appears she’ll carve out a nice career at Michigan.