Under a featureless gray sky, a biting October wind whips across a playing field shoehorned between buildings and streets on an urban Philadelphia campus, where the University of Richmond women’s field hockey team is battling the La Salle College Explorers. A first-half goal by Richmond was tied by the opponents a few minutes into the second half. Now the game races furiously across the turf, the women hurling themselves into the fray, the clack and clatter of hard stick against hard ball mingling with the voices of the players calling to each other.
A crowd numbering barely in the dozens, made up almost entirely of parents and siblings, huddles on the sidelines wrapped in jackets and fleece, shouting encouragement and advice to the players. If the familiar, visible face of Division I sports is packed stadiums, television reporters, roaring fans, March Madness, this game has none of those. But for these young women, being part of this team is central to who they are, driving a passionate determination on the field apparent in the ferocity of their play.
“We don’t need ten thousand people watching our game,” says Rebecca Barry, a junior midfielder from Limerick, Ireland. “We need our team. We need our coaches. We have our families.”
In the waning minutes of the game, Barry, whose nimble stickwork has just that week earned her a 5th-place spot on ESPN SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays of the Day,” scores back-to-back goals to secure a victory for the Spiders.
And then the final whistle is blown, and the intensity of the game dissolves into winded chatter, family hugs, care packages changing hands before the young women board the bus for the five-hour drive back to Richmond. They’ve been on the road since Friday, played two games in three days, and they’re tired and cold and they have to be back in class tomorrow, with reading to be done and assignments due, and no excuses. And that’s what they signed up for: Division 1 play and a demanding academic curriculum and four years of working harder than they’ve ever worked in their lives.