Being a collegiate athlete comes with many challenges, particularly as a freshman.
For Caitlin Gallagher, a 2021 Glastonbury High School graduate, her freshman year at Bryant University started with a major obstacle.
Gallagher earned all-state honors in field hockey during her final two season at GHS, becoming a team captain for a Guardians team that won 22 games and lost only once in the regular season during the two years.
During that time, Bryant’s field hockey head coach Joppe De Vries recruited Gallagher to the university and shortly after Gallagher committed, De Vries stepped down from her position in May of 2020
Assistant coach Laura Gebhart took over the head coaching duties and then only a few weeks before Gallagher’s freshman season was set to begin, Gebhart left the university to take an assistant coaching job at Penn State – her alma mater – leaving the program in limbo on the brink of the first game.
“It was tough, but it was also one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had,” recalled Gallagher. “I made connections with new girls and new coaches, and I made friends that I know will last forever.”
Gallagher, who described herself as “easy going”, said that the previous challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic helped prepare her for the unexpected.
She again took what felt like lemons and turned them into lemonade, thriving during her first season in Smithfield, RI.
Gallagher started all 18 games for the Bulldogs, immediately producing on the field and making the Northeast Conference (NEC) academic honor roll.
The chaos of the coaching situation created the ultimate learning experience as first-year head coach Jillian Coppola took over the program in August of 2021 and guided the young, hungry Bulldogs through the transition.
After losing the first 14 games of the season, the team finished strong by winning two of their final four games, shutting out both Merrimack and Long Island.
Gallagher, who tallied her first point with an assist on Oct. 29, said the adjustment – both mentally and physically – going from high school to Division I athletics was difficult.
She recalled having a “holy moly” moment in the team’s season opener at Providence College.
“It was a lot faster; the field hockey was insanely fast. The girls were bigger, the girls were stronger. I wasn’t much of a push-and-shove kind of girl and I was getting shoved all the time,” recalled Gallagher. “I thought something needs to change here, so I focused a lot in the weight room. I focused a lot on getting faster and by the end of the season I felt comfortable in my position.”
As she prepares for her second season at Bryant, she had a chance to reflect on what the last five years have meant to her as a person.
The first time she picked up a field hockey stick was the first day of try-outs as a freshman at GHS. From that point on, field hockey has changed her entire outlook on the world.
“For me the sport goes so much deeper than picking up a stick and ball. I think my leadership ability has grown the most. I would have never spoken up. I would have never put my ideas forward in middle school and elementary school. I was the shy little girl that was always around my parents,” said Gallagher. “It helped me realize that I have a voice and helped me develop a work ethic”
She added that she uses that same work ethic on and off the field, saying, “Nowadays I am at the field five or six hours a day. I lift, I run, I do everything I can. I think that will take me further than even the next three years at Bryant and hopefully this will all translate to the workforce.”
Because of how much field hockey has changed her, she added that she wants to help expand the sport.
Field hockey has been around for hundreds of years, but wasn’t introduced in the United States until the early 1900s. It took almost 80 years for the sport to gain traction nationally before its popularity rose after the U.S. sent a team to the Olympics for the first time in 1984.
Now, many high schools and colleges have teams, yet Gallagher would like to see the sport expand even more through youth programs and additional feeder systems.
“I would love to see field hockey grow and become more competitive throughout everywhere, especially in Connecticut. I think it has grown and there are a lot of great girls throughout Connecticut, but I still think it has room to grow,” said Gallagher, who competed on club teams throughout high school.
She said the coaches she had in high school, led by current GHS head coach Maureen Perkins made “the biggest impact on my life”, adding, “Glastonbury field hockey was the best four years of my life and I couldn't ask for a better team or coaches. Once I graduate college I would like to increase the field hockey in Glastonbury. I want to have little girls have that same experience that I got to have.”
But before she can do that, she has three years left at Bryant to help the Bulldogs become conference contenders.
Gallagher, who had yet to declare a major but is leaning towards marketing, was named a team captain for the upcoming fall season.
She is using the summer to increase her skill through additional field work and time in the weight, also working with fellow captains and best friends Grayson Green (senior) and Lotte Guitink (junior) to prepare the team for what looks to be a fruitful fall.
“I think next year is looking pretty positive. We have a team of people that want to be better and want to grow,” said Gallagher. “We wanted to see last season go better, we wanted to have a winning record, but it just didn’t happen. Now we want this team to have the best year possible for our seniors and everyone involved.”
Despite experiencing a roller coaster of a first year at Bryant, Gallagher added that she wouldn’t want it any other way and believes the challenges of last season will make the team stronger this fall.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin