Alumni and Donors

Stevens Field Hockey Team Takes on the World

Every few years, the Stevens field hockey program organizes a preseason trip abroad, an adventure made possible in part through the generosity of the Stevens community. It is more than a valuable opportunity for student-athletes to learn about other countries and cultures, however. It is a chance for the team to prepare for a winning season by playing against tough competitors who have worked their way up the ranks of a long-established field hockey tradition.

“Organizing an international trip every three to four years helps ensure that every player gets at least one chance to participate,” says Meredith Spencer-Blaetz, head field hockey coach. “Planning begins well over a year in advance and includes fundraising through the All Rise Challenge. We let the team choose the destination, and this year they chose a tour of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.”

In August 2023, 26 players – including incoming first-year students – two coaches, two chaperones and recent alumni Emily Franco ’23 and Emily Hyde ’23, packed up and traveled to Europe for 10 days of practice, play and touring. They even had the chance to attend a men’s Euro Hockey semifinal game.

“Field hockey is enormously popular and well established outside the U.S.,” Spencer-Blaetz points out. “Trips like these give our Ducks an opportunity to participate in very high-level play and to learn from coaches and players who have been part of the game since early childhood.”

“Our 2023 trip to Europe really helped me bond with my teammates and form strong connections with them,” says Sophia Cozza, a first-year biology major on the pre-med track who plays forward and midfield. “I moved into Stevens and the next day was whisked away to Europe. Our team motto this year is ‘Stronger Together,’ which I think really embodied our trip. Between canceled flights, bad weather and being delayed in Heathrow Airport, we grew stronger together as one. I feel that going to Europe really integrated me into the team and gave me the confidence and skills I need to succeed. With the coaching from international coaches, we learned new techniques that we now use in our gameplay.”

“It’s fun for our players to see how hockey is organized and played in the rest of the world,” says Spencer-Blaetz. “Our Ducks get a bigger perspective of their sport. They gain confidence, as well as skills, as we prepare to go into our season.”

Mackenzy Garden ’23, a midfielder who is pursuing a graduate degree in chemical biology, agrees. “Field hockey is still a growing sport in the U.S. It is not offered in many recreation, high school or even college athletic departments here. Having the opportunity to experience a culture where the sport is well-known and celebrated was inspiring.”

During the trip, the team attended clinics led by German and Dutch coaches, played four games against European teams, and participated in a tournament. “The structure of the sport is different outside the U.S.,” Spencer-Blaetz notes. “There is a wider age-range among players, but everyone on the team has likely been playing field hockey since they were four or so years old. They are formidable opponents.”

Between practices and games, the students had opportunities to take in the sights. “Several of the students had never been out of the country before,” Spencer-Blaetz says. “It was exciting to see the experience through their eyes. We took a boat tour of Amsterdam and visited the Anne Frank House. We biked to the beach in Holland and saw the windmills. In Germany, we saw the Cologne Cathedral, and we took a driving tour of Brussels and Bruge in Belgium.”

By supporting international experiences for student-athletes, the All Rise Challenge contributes to their development as future professionals and leaders. Students develop a deeper awareness of other cultures and an expanded view of their own careers.

“Exposure to other cultures is important for anyone in any major or field,” Garden says. “Awareness of the differences between people around you teaches you so many skills, such as empathy and appreciation. Being immersed in a different culture forces you to focus on the differences between people and cultures, both in the U.S. and around the world, and in turn, appreciate them.”

For Cozza, travel abroad changed how she thinks about her future career. “After each game against an international team, we would join them for a meal and socialization. We got to meet so many different people and ask them about their career paths. After this experience, I now want to try to get a job abroad doing research. Specifically, I would like to move to the Netherlands. It was super interesting seeing how much they integrate sustainable energy into their lifestyles.”

“The students also had a little free time in each place we visited,” Spencer-Blaetz adds, noting how the overall global experience contributes to students’ development.

“It is also important to remember that our players do not receive financial support, such as scholarships, to join our teams,” Spencer-Blaetz continues. “As Division III athletes, Ducks are on the field purely for the love of their sport. That’s why we work so hard to offer them every enrichment opportunity we can. The annual All Rise Challenge and other fundraising initiatives covered about 50% of the cost of this year’s trip. Contributions are crucial to making trips like these possible.”

With Lead. Achieve. Succeed. as this year’s All Rise theme, Spencer-Blaetz is eager to increase support for the team to provide for facility upgrades, special coaching and of course, travel. “Participation in a well-funded, high-quality sports program contributes so much to students’ development as athletes, while also helping them build their future as successful professionals and thoughtful leaders. It is a wonderful example of how donor support can have a profound impact on students.”