By John Torsiello
It took Granby’s Kelsey Iwanicki awhile to get her cleats firmly planted in the field hockey pitch but it has been all good ever since.
Iwanicki is a freshman on the Salve Regina College varsity field hockey team and playing a key role as a defender for the squad, which was 6-6 at the start of the week.
“Kelsey has been an outstanding addition to our team,” said Tia Pydynkowski, Salve Regina interim head field hockey coach. “She flawlessly adjusted to the demands of college athletics and has been a key piece to our defensive unit. She comes to practice every day with a great attitude and is always willing to step out of her comfort zone and help her teammates grow. Kelsey has a bright future and I am excited to watch her continue to excel and grow as a player and student athlete at the University.”
Iwanicki, whose major is undecided, said playing college field hockey has been fun and challenging.
“It definitely keeps me busy. All the girls have been incredibly nice to me and we work as a team. In the classroom, I’m definitely getting challenged and I also have to work to keep a balance between field hockey and the work load from classes. But I like that I’m busy.”
She is the only freshman to start every game this season, which she called “a huge shock.” She added, “I also fly on the corners and have just recently been pulled into the offensive corners as a support because my coach wants me to help ensure the ball stays in the offensive circle and she said she relies on me because I’m the fastest defender.”
Referring to starting her freshman year in college, Iwanicki commented. “Starting was definitely the biggest surprise because I had my doubts about even making the team. I originally was just going to try out for lacrosse in college, but around April or May I started thinking about trying out for field hockey too because the worst that could happen was that I got cut. After talking to my parents and my high school coach, Sandy Mason, I decided I would give it a try. Once I made the team I had no idea that I would start. I was just happy to be on the team. It’s truly an honor to be on the starting lineup with these girls, they are all talented.”
Iwanicki has been playing field hockey since the summer going into the fourth grade. She played in middle school but didn’t play her freshman year at Granby Memorial High School because she went to the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts until November. She tried out for the team her sophomore year and made junior varsity, was called up to the varsity and enjoyed a run to a state championship. Her junior year she practiced with varsity and played some games with junior varsity and some with varsity because there was a big senior class ahead of her. Again, she was on a state championship team that year. Her senior year she was named a tri-captain and started for the varsity.
“I would usually play the entire game, and we made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.” She received the most improved player award from her high school coaches, was Academic All-State and named to the Gladiator by SGI/ NFHCA High School National Academic Squad.
As for her choice of colleges, Iwanicki said “there was something about Salve that really appealed to me.” She went on to say, “After I had an overnight with the lacrosse team, I decided that it was the place I wanted to go. Not only is the location beautiful, I’ve met a lot of great people, and there are strong academic programs. It’s also a liberal arts school which was nice because I didn’t know what I wanted to major in when I was looking at colleges. All in all, I just got the feeling that I would fit in nicely here.”
Salve Regina, located in Newport, R.I., is a Division III school playing in the Commonwealth Coastal Conference.
It’s been a bit of adjustment making the leap from high school to college field hockey.
“The game itself is a lot faster, something I didn’t realize until playing for a couple of games. Also, there is more commitment because we sometimes have crazy practice times and long bus rides. There are also ball people, who we only had for the state tournament games in high school, which makes taking free hits a lot faster.”
During this past summer Iwanicki received a packet and skills sheet that the Salve Regina coaching staff emailed to her that she tried her best to follow.
“The workout packet included the runs for specific weeks throughout the summer, especially a timed mile and timed 300’s towards the end of the summer because we were running those two runs the first day of preseason. As for skills, my boyfriend and I would go to the Simsbury track in the morning and do stick work, including pulls, double pulls, lifts, weaving throughout cones, dribbling drills, and shots. I would do the run and skills almost every other day in order to prepare. I really wanted to be ready coming into the season.”
She continued, “During preseason, most days we would have a conditioning practice in the morning, practice on the turf in the middle of the day, and then a night practice from around 8 to 10 p.m. We also went to a couple lifting sessions where we worked on leg and arm strength. Now that we’re almost halfway done with our season, we do an assortment of runs every practice but not usually before games, and then the rest of the practice is made up of skills the coaches want us to work on.”
She spoke to her team and personal goals this season.
“As a team our goal is to win the CCC conference. Individually, my goal is to become more confident with my stick skills and also become more aggressive because defending on the left side like I do is a hard position.”
She called defeating Nichols and Endicott colleges as the high points of her freshman season.
“Those games were really important because those teams are both strong competitors in our conference and we came together as a team to win. Individually, my biggest moment was the first time my name was announced in our home opener. It felt unreal to be a freshman and starting. Every time the announcer says my name, I still can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to be starting as a freshman. And on the field, I think my biggest moments have been when I’ve gotten the ball when I fly out on corners, or when I get a defensive save right in front of our goalie.”
She believes her strengths as field hockey player are her speed, positive communication, and a willingness to work hard.
“I’m always working on my stick skills because I’ve never felt extremely confident with them, and definitely taking 16-yard hits. At the beginning of the season I was nervous because I didn’t want to mess up, but with each hit I feel like I get better and am seeing the field more.”
Iwanicki said she took much away from playing the sport in high school.
“My high school field hockey coaches are absolutely amazing at their jobs and I’m so fortunate I got to play for them. They taught me patience, urgency, stick skills, keeping my head up, dribbling, strong hits, and so much more. They taught me everything I knew about field hockey until I joined Salve’s team.”
She keeps in touch with her former team.
“My sister, Krista, is a junior on the team so I went back to see their game against Guilford and I’m coming back again to watch their homecoming game. I love seeing her play, she’s so talented (not to brag). It’s really great to see them play together, even though I desperately wanted to play with them again because we had a great group of girls for my senior year.”