Ann Arbor Field Hockey on the Rise

. September 1, 2017.
Field hockey requires high levels of communication, collaboration and cooperation. Photo by Karen Smyte
Field hockey requires high levels of communication, collaboration and cooperation. Photo by Karen Smyte

On a recent summer morning, the clack of sticks smacking against each other and constant shouts of “yeah, yeah, yeah” – field-hockey speak for “I’m open for a pass” – rang through the air as Ann Arbor high school students roamed the turf at Huron High. The goal – teach younger, elementary-school versions of themselves how to play the sport they love. The camp, run by Huron Head Coach Lauren Hall, is part of a multi-tiered field hockey experience including Rec & Ed leagues, middle school programs, travel clubs and high school programs that involves hundreds of girls each year, and, ultimately winds up propelling several to play at the collegiate level.

Size, not an issue

“You’ve got great programs – Pioneer, Huron and Skyline – all playing on surfaces that are not grass,” Hall explains. “You have two club teams now [Pinnacle and Fer De Lance] so each year the students are coming in at better and better skill levels.”

One of those students, Minna Tremonti, a co-captain and junior at Huron, recently committed to play at The University of Louisville, a top twenty Division I program. Tremonti loves field hockey because she can succeed despite her small stature. “Size doesn’t matter,” she says. “In soccer, I can get pushed off the ball, but in field hockey, I can play. I can make my way.” She enjoys teaching at the camp, describing how fun it is “to be able to give back to the kids and help them learn.”

That spirit resonates throughout the field hockey community where U-M players are often eager to work with high school and middle school students, who then pass along what they know to younger girls. “I think it’s getting bigger here,” says Samantha Cho, Huron’s other captain, also a junior. “There are a lot of people wanting to grow the game. The clubs are growing. It’s cool to see.”

Finding Joy in the Struggle

Cho initially started playing Rec & Ed field hockey in third grade to get into better physical condition, but she’s found the sport has become an outlet where she can learn how to control her responses to difficult challenges. “Self-management and confidence,” she says about what playing field hockey has taught her. “On the field, you can’t really think about your emotions. If something happens, you just have to deal with it.”

“Field hockey is one of those passions that allows you to work hard, learn, grow, get strong and build character,” says Jane Nixon, Head Coach at three-time defending State Champion Pioneer H.S. “You can have fun and build lifelong relationships with friends you will have forever.”

Nixon clarifies that the sport is hardly comprised of leisurely social clubs. “None of this happens with ease,” she says. “Hard work, struggle, disappointments, early morning practices, cold rainy games – finding joy in the struggle, that’s all part of it.”

Pinnacle Field Hockey Club and the 3C’s

While coaching at Pioneer, where she has won over a dozen state championships, Nixon is also affiliated with The Pinnacle Field Hockey Club and Director Nancy Cox, who – along with Nixon – established the Pioneer program. Cox coached at U-M from 2005-2008 and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2007. Cox says the goal for any player (from elementary school through college) in the Pinnacle program is to improve the 3C’s – “communication, confidence and courage to find their voice” – both on the field and in the community. Cox adds that field hockey is a great sport for young women because it “requires high levels of communication, collaboration and cooperation to succeed, similar to what it is required in the workplace and classroom.”

Fer De Lance, new club with a spark

While Pinnacle has been a force in Ann Arbor for years, Fer De Lance is the new kid on the block. Founded by Maren and Ryan Langford in 2009 as a place for athletes to play locally, it became a full-fledged travel club three years later. Maren, a former member of the USA National Team and a three-time All-Ivy Selection at Princeton, sees herself as a facilitator who can help her athletes “when the road gets tough,” teaching them “to be their own engines… empowered to make change happen.”

Field hockey, she adds, is a game that requires problem-solving. “I am a firm believer that young women learn so much from sport,” she says. “ They are the ones making decisions and fixing situations when things aren’t going the way they want.”

Watching the Wolverines

Pioneer’s Ava Millman is inspired watching UM players

Pioneer’s Ava Millman is inspired watching UM players

U-M Field Hockey (Ryan Langford is an assistant coach) has a huge impact on younger players in the community. “Field hockey was one of the original women’s varsity sports at the University of Michigan (and the first to win a Division I National Championship),” says Cox, “so girls could see the sport being played at a high level.” Maren Langford explains that the opportunity to watch players compete on the big stage, “motivates individuals who have a desire to play at that level and be the best. The girls latch onto field hockey due to tradition in the area.”

Langford says the level of play in the area has risen over the past few years. “The skills are elevating and speed of play is getting faster,” she notes. “The gap is closing between midwest and east coast players. There’s certainly room to grow and that is part of the challenge of what makes coaching so much fun.”

While Langford calls Ann Arbor a “hidden gem” on the national level with lots of “fabulous players coming out of the area that are under the radar,” her husband Ryan is emphatic that “on a national level, we compare quite well with anyone. More and more we are getting players who can compete and excel with anyone in the U.S.”

For more information about club field hockey in the area, visit pinnaclefieldhockey.com and/or ferdelancehc.com.

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