Birthday parties aren’t usually ironic.

But sophomore Ainsley McCallier can’t help laughing when she thinks back to a celebration she attended in elementary school.

The theme was Michigan field hockey. And when a picture of the attendees was taken on Ocker Field that day, McCallister never imagined that she would later return to that same turf not as a party guest, but as a midfielder for the Michigan women’s field hockey team.

The photo is still on McCallister’s wall, acting as a memento of her earliest field hockey days. And she’s not alone on the team as one who grew up surrounded by Michigan’s field hockey program.

Like Pioneer High School alumnae freshman Emy Guttman and redshirt sophomore Haley Jones, McCallister — who went to Huron High School— grew up in Ann Arbor. And all three decided to stay in their hometown for a chance to play for the Wolverines.

If you had asked any of them a few years ago if they imagined coming to Michigan, the answer is a resounding no.

But Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz isn’t surprised that each player changed her mind.

“A lot of these players grew up with Michigan,” Pankratz said. “They bleed maize and blue. They’ve dreamed of wearing the uniform their whole lives. They love it and want to win championships for Michigan.”

McCallister echoed those sentiments while recalling the day she committed.

“Once I came on junior day and got the offer, it was eye opening,” McCallister said. “I saw what a great school it was, and fell in love with the program. It makes you want to represent the block ‘M.’ ”

These attitudes aren’t surprising considering the University is located in a field hockey hotbed. Both Huron and Pioneer are consistently the top-ranked high school programs in the state. Ann Arbor Community Recreation and Education offers club teams for players as young as eight. Pankratz cites this “rich tradition of field hockey” as a reason she’s always eager to recruit local players.

“There are some great coaches in this area,” Pankratz said. “There are wonderful athletes and we love having players out of this particular area because they’re all well coached and strong players.”

This strong sporting community not only builds relationships between the local athletes — Guttman, Jones and McCallister have all played together since middle school — but also forges early relationships with Michigan’s program.

Jones defeated McCallister on Ocker Field for the 2008 MHSAA State Championship title. Guttman remembers frequenting the Michigan games as a child. While these circumstances seemed to have foreshadowed the futures of the three athletes, it is these early interactions that prove advantageous for Pankratz when it comes to recruiting.

“(Recruiting) rules prevent you from having any communication with players before their junior year unless they’re on your campus,” Pankratz said. “Because they’re here and come onto campus, we get to establish relationships early, which is nice.

“We get to know their family, get to know them and know if they’re a good fit.”

More than anything, the players appreciate the support from family members when playing for the Wolverines.

“I like being close to my family,” McCallister said. “It’s nice that they can come and see me compete, whereas if I went somewhere else they wouldn’t have had the same opportunities.”

For highly recruited high school athletes, the appeal of leaving their hometown is a big draw when deciding where to commit. When convincing Ann Arbor’s talents to stay local, Pankratz emphasizes the possibility to maintain independence and have new experiences despite living in the town they have always known — something Guttman, Jones and McCallister all attest to.

“Living in the dorms and being downtown, I rarely go home,” Guttman said. “I don’t feel like I’m in my hometown. I feel like I’m away.

“I would not want to be anywhere else but here.”

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