On Oct. 4, the club field hockey team had a scrimmage scheduled against UMBC. The Retrievers, however, didn’t show up. This usually happens at least once each year but, since the team is not a varsity program, there isn’t much they can do about it.
Over the last few years, club field hockey has gone from a team struggling with high attrition rates to one with about 40 members, too many to use in a game. Now, a few members are trying to make sure that they get the nod next time GW decides to add a varsity program, even though they likely would never get to play for it.
“We have never been better as a team and we just want to take it one step further,” junior Sydney Mann, club field hockey president last year and through this fall, said. “Even though that step isn’t very small, it’s still one step further.”
Sports sponsorship is evaluated as part of the athletic strategic plan. The current plan was adopted in 2012 and involved adding a varsity sailing program to GW’s 21 other varsity sports offerings. The plan spells out the department’s strategy through 2017, when a new plan will be enacted which could include adding a sport.
Though the enthusiasm is there from the players, athletic director Patrick Nero said there is no reason right now to see the club field hockey team as a front-runner because the committee that will evaluate which sports GW should or should not have is just being formed.
“Field hockey has some unique factors on the positive side and it has some unique factors on the negative side, but we’re nowhere near the point where we would look and say what are the sports we’ll look at,” Nero said.
Making a team
The group to pick a team includes alumni, some of the former athletes, and Board of Trustees members as well as select individuals outside the athletics world with a particular connection to GW, like Director of Admissions Karen Stroud Felton.
Any decision made has to comply with the federal anti-discrimination law Title IX, meaning that the ratio of male student athletes to female student athletes must mirror enrollment. Nero said that the athletic department and the strategic plan committee look at admissions projections to figure out what they should do.
Nero said that committee would start meeting within the next three to six months and focus on setting the factors that will guide their selection process, weighting potential admissions draw, current roster numbers, ability to be competitive and the level of resource commitment. Any potential additions will be evaluated, as will the group of currently sponsored teams.
“In order for us to sponsor a team, we have to feel strongly that they can have competitive success and right now we define competitive success as within their conference or our market basket of schools,” Nero said.
Other potential candidates could run the gamut from men’s lacrosse to women’s rugby to something more obscure but potentially less costly, like rifling.
A varsity field hockey team, however, would need an Astroturf field to host games and practice on. GW currently has a turf field, but not Astroturf, and it is already in high demand. The field is used by both soccer teams and women’s lacrosse on the varsity level, as well as several club programs, including field hockey. The University has not been able to get a license approved to add lights to the field on the Mount Vernon Campus which means that teams have to compete for daylight hours.
A play for the future
The motivation, particularly for Mann and sophomore social chair Cameryn Lonsway, isn’t necessarily to play on a varsity team themselves. They know that would come certainly after they graduate. But they’ve seen the program grow around them and want to do something to cement that change.
The team currently schedules 10 games and tournaments during the fall season, though the National Field Hockey League they are part of only requires seven. Members pay dues of $100 in the fall and $75 in the spring. This fall, the team finished 3‒5‒1 with a league rank of 30, including a 5‒0 win over American and a 6‒0 win over Johns Hopkins.
It was Lonsway who emailed Nero earlier this fall, initially asking questions, and at his invitation met with him in his office. She said that because of the strategic plan committee’s meeting schedule, Nero and his advisers suggested she get back in touch after winter break when more progress has been made.
“It would be really cool to be one of the first people who started it at GW,” Lonsway said. “Obviously at first I was thinking how incredible it would be to be on the first D-I field hockey team at GW but even if that doesn’t happen, now the idea’s in my head and I don’t really want to let it go.”
If the sport was chosen to be bumped up, Lonsway could have the opportunity to play with the varsity team during a transition year. Nero said that GW and the Atlantic 10, in theory, would have to evaluate any individual case to decide whether or not the team was ready for a full A-10 slate of games, but if a team is eligible for NCAA tournaments they are typically eligible for league tournaments as well. The A-10 does sponsor field hockey.
The players say that the plan would be to continue fielding a club team, but that having a varsity team would be a draw for people to come to GW and that a few select players on the team now would likely want to play at the varsity level.
It would help take the team, bolstered in size by an aggressive social media presence and practicing up to five times each week, out of the limbo of attracting skilled players, particularly from the prep schools in New England that are often feeders for GW, but still struggling to get its own set of goalie gear and having opponents no-show for games.
And it would also give players like Lonsway, who said she told the athletic department that she would “do anything” necessary, a chance to leave an imprint on a team that has left one on her.
“I love field hockey. Anything field hockey, that’s what I want to get involved in,” Lonsway said. “If I can make that difference and make that happen that’s something that I would be proud of.”