Freshman defender Sarah Wilhite jumped into the fast-paced, highly skilled world of college field hockey with both feet. Through the many challenges, she has shown herself more than equal to the task.
A well-regarded player equal during her days at Hershey High School in Pennsylvania, Wilhite still needed to make many adjustments to the college game. In high school, the natural grass makes it easier to hide mistakes, but in the flat turf of college fields, any underdeveloped areas of skill are quickly exposed.
“A huge difference (between high school and college) is the speed,” Wilhite said. “In college, it’s just smooth turf and you need to have the skill.”
Despite being a freshman, Wilhite has started all but two games this season and has been key to the team’s success.
“Coming in, I wasn’t expecting to start at all,” Wilhite said. “There’s pressure, but at the same time you want to go out there and show the people that you do belong.”
Wilhite has never stopped working diligently to improve her game. Throughout high school, she and teammate Allison Scola – now a freshman midfielder at Penn State – pushed each other to their athletic limits.
“We always wanted to be better than (each other),” Wilhite said. “She’s my biggest competitor but my very best friend. We really prepared each other for the next level.”
Another part of preparing for college field hockey was playing on the national under-16 team. Wilhite said she believes it helped her become more well-known, and she said it was very good preparation for playing field hockey at the college level.
And though she was helped by her work before coming to Ann Arbor, she still relied on the Wolverines’ upperclassmen to help her feel more comfortable with the college game.
“The older girls made it so much easier to fit in my niche and to feel like I was part of the team,” Wilhite said. “They make you want to go out there every day and practice as hard as you can.”
Wilhite has already made some great memories this season, and she hopes for more to come in the postseason. In a game against Vermont, she scored the first goal of a 5-0 win before notching a second later in the game.
“It was a great feeling,” Wilhite said. “I haven’t scored any (since), but I’m planning on many more to come.”
Wilhite has big plans not just for this year but also for the future. One day she hopes to be a leader in the mold of captain Lori Hillman – not always a vocal presence, but a powerfully inspiring one. Another dream is to pass on her desire and knowledge to the next generation of players as a coach. And like most athletes, she intends to bring home a national championship.
“I would love for our team to go all the way,” Wilhite said. “I can see us winning a national championship sometime in the next four years. I can promise you that.”