Before the season began, Michigan field hockey coach Nancy Cox expected this year’s freshmen to contribute immediately. And after an impressive pair of victories over the weekend, it’s obvious her expectations were warranted.
No. 15 Michigan defeated Vermont and No. 16 Connecticut in Louisville, Ky., last weekend. Freshmen Meredith Way and Vanessa Sekhon had standout performances against Connecticut, including Way’s first-career goal and Sekhon’s second-career goal.
Way, a native of Newmanstown, Penn., was the only Michigan freshman to play on the U.S. Under-21 Team this summer.
Sekhon, a native of West Vancouver, B. C., was the leading scorer for the British Columbia Under-19 Provincial Team and won a silver medal at the 2007 U-19 Canadian National Field Hockey Championships.
“Those opportunities for those players have made a significant difference in where they started out at the beginning of the season, in terms of their hockey intellect,” Cox said. “I think last weekend was huge for our freshmen group because what they see now is that we can compete with any team in the country.”
As with all freshmen, the initial adjustment to a new school and a new team was a challenge for the duo.
“It was a little overwhelming, playing with girls I have never played with before and getting used to the new coaching style,” Way said. “It can be a lot to handle at one time, but off and on the field, everyone is so supportive and has made it a lot easier.”
For Sekhon, the adjustment was more unusual.
“Canada doesn’t really have the whole university sports thing,” she said. “It was pretty cool to see all the fans and such a big athletic atmosphere. I was pretty overwhelmed at first, but now I love everything about it.”
Although their teammates anticipated a strong group of freshmen, Way and Sekhon’s athleticism and early success have been a pleasant surprise for everyone.
“They have exceeded my expectations,” senior co-captain Lucia Belassi said.
She emphasized the impressive ability of the freshman to rise to the level of competition and quickly adapt to the rest of the team.
“I don’t think of them as freshmen,” Belassi continued. “They have taken on a leadership role and don’t rely on the seniors.”
Cox is encouraged by the way her freshmen have been playing and by how the team has competed with the top teams in the nation.
The Wolverines defeated No. 9 Old Dominion, and Cox purposely schedules the country’s top four teams the beginning of each season to prepare everyone for the challenges of Big Ten play.
Although the games ahead will be another difficult test for the freshman players, Way isn’t intimidated.
“We’re all so competitive that we all try to motivate each other to be better and push each other before games,” she said.