Head Copy Editor
Starting college is tough. Even more difficult: starting college and being a student-athlete. Imagine doing both of those things AND being nearly 10,000 miles from home. Two Millersville field hockey players are living that reality.
Annabelle Tierney and Natalie Pinder are the team’s first Australian signees. The freshmen arrived in America at the beginning of August and were immediately met by their new teammates.
“We knew we had made the right decision when we walked out of the airport in Philadelphia and there were our teammates waiting for us with signs,” Pinder says. “They have shown us around, helped us get around and buy everything we need. They’ve taught us so much and helped us settle in so well. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
The decision to attend and play field hockey at Millersville was made largely after being in contact with Head Coach Shelly Behrens and Assistant Coach Baillie Versfeld. Pinder feels like athletes are often seen as objects and Behrens treated her like an actual member of the team, which made her feel welcome and ultimately persuaded her to choose Millersville. Versfeld was able to connect to the girls in a different way, as she was an international student-athlete herself.
“Everyone was so inviting. They answered all of my questions, and made everything about Millersville seem so appealing. I am so glad I came here!” says Tierney.
With school, hockey, immigration, and living arrangements, international recruiting is much more intensive than normal. Behrens wanted to be able to break down the process and explain everything to the players and their families.
Behrens says, “Think of it this way: what are the things you would want to know if you were considering going half a world away to study and play a sport? As much as things will be different, the one similarity is hockey and even that is different.”
The playing surface, physicality, and training regimen are all different for Tierney and Pinder. Though most of the rules are internationally regulated, there are some small differences that they must get used to. For instance, Some of the on-field calls and signals and how collegiate overtime is played in America is different than the way they it is done in Australia, but the girls are adapting very well. Off the field, Tierney and Pinder are adjusting to American food, especially portions, and a different study schedule.
Having to balance classes, practice, eating, and studying has been a challenge, especially at the beginning. “There’s no stopping, but I love it at the same time,” Tierney says. “It’s great to be back into the schoolwork, making friends, and getting to run around the field at the end of the day.”
“Their view on all things and how they are just truly fascinated, from their first trip to Wal-Mart to seeing a school bus for the first time, just allows us to appreciate what these two young women have undertaken,” Behrens says.
Indeed, joining one of the top Division II programs in the country is no small undertaking. With a National Championship and two PSAC titles since 2013, Millersville has a reputation of excellence. Despite that, Tierney and Pinder have few expectations. Pinder came in with goals of seeing time on the field and fine-tuning some of the more advanced skills.
Tierney did not have any specific goals either. She says, “I just want to take this opportunity with both hands. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has to offer.”
So far, she is definitely making the most of it. Tierney has started in every game thus far, scoring her first goal in a 6-0 victory over Seton Hill. In that same game, Pinder made her first appearance.
“I feel really proud to have been selected above other girls,” Pinder says. “This may be the only way that I will get to represent my country playing field hockey, so I am going to make the most of it.”
As much as this experience means to the Australian natives, it is equally as important to Behrens and the rest of the team.
She says, “I know they are thrilled for the opportunity and are so appreciative, but I also think what they are showing us and bringing to our program is just as rewarding to our American athletes.”