Nearly 4,000 miles separate Lenke Havas from her hometown, Maastricht, a city located in the southern tip of the Netherlands.
Havas left home in August to attend Lehigh in pursuit of her dream of playing field hockey — a sport she began playing at 7 years old — while also working toward her college degree. This was something she most likely could not do in the Netherlands, as university and athletics are separated.
A recruiting company that provides university coaches with skills videos and coach recommendations allowed Havas to connect with Lehigh coach Caitlin Dallmeyer.
Havas was attracted to Lehigh because of its academics. She was drawn to the field hockey program because of Dallmeyer’s plans to move the team to a higher level as a new coach, as well as the fact that there were no other players from the Netherlands.
“I didn’t want to be the next Dutch girl on other teams, because I feel like other teams have so many Dutch girls,” Havas said.
But since Havas wasn’t able to meet Dallmeyer or visit campus prior to the team’s preseason, both were taking a chance by adding Havas to the team roster.
As expected, Havas said she was nervous when she arrived on campus for the first time but found that having no expectations allowed her to transition smoothly into Lehigh and American life.
“I had no idea how it was (in the United States) — so that kind of helped me be open to everything that was coming at me,” Havas said.
Dallmeyer said she and her staff were concerned about Havas missing the Netherlands, but it never became an issue because she was enjoying being on the team too much to think about being homesick.
Despite being one of two international students on the field hockey team, Havas didn’t struggle to fit in with her teammates, most of whom hail from New Jersey and other neighboring states. Her teammates expressed interest in her Dutch culture, and she said that made adjusting easier.
Senior midfielder Jackie Renda said they all enjoyed comparing the differences between common phrases and foods in the U.S. and the Netherlands.
“It creates a lot of funny moments when I don’t know the meaning of a word, or they’re talking about something and I have no idea what it is, and they’re like, ‘Oh, how can you not know that?’” Havas said. “There’s this thing for breakfast, Lucky Charms, that I didn’t know about, and then I tasted it, and now I eat it everyday.”
Senior defender Julia Washburn said when the team traveled for away games, Havas would look out the window of the bus and exclaim how America looks “just like in the movies.”
Havas has discovered several differences in field hockey and the athlete culture as well.[parallax-scroll id=”55594″]
She said sports are considered a much bigger deal in the U.S., and in the Netherlands individuals don’t even refer to themselves as athletes. The Lehigh team emphasizes fitness, especially weight training and conditioning, whereas Dutch field hockey teams mostly focus on refining their skills. Havas said the sports culture has made the experience of being a student athlete even more fun for her.
“Just the small things, like we sing the national anthem before a game, or we have a personal trainer,” Havas said. “It’s just things back home you would only have when you play on the national team.”
Havas described American field hockey as more physical than what she was used to back home. Dallmeyer said her developed skill set was an asset to the team.
In the Netherlands, Havas usually played as a midfielder, but when Dallmeyer and the other coaches saw the ability she had on the field, they felt confident placing her in any position. This season, the team was in need of a center back, and Havas was able to fill that role, starting every game in her first season.
“That’s very much a leadership role on the team and on the field, and one where you have to have a very confident player in that role,” Dallmeyer said. “Typically you can’t find that in a first-year, so we were very fortunate that she filled that role for us.”
Renda said a center back’s role is to communicate with everyone on the team, since they have a view of the entire field, and Havas was able to confidently direct her teammates.
Havas found communicating on the field in English to be difficult at first, but by asking her teammates what certain terms meant and spending many hours on the field, she learned to adjust.
“You could never tell on the field that she was a freshman, and she really held our backfield together with her ability to stay calm under pressure and consistently play well,” Renda said.
Both Renda and Dallmeyer see potential for Havas’ leadership role to grow over her next three years at Lehigh. Starting in the spring semester, Dallmeyer said Havas will represent the freshman class on the team’s leadership council.
The team votes on one representative per class year to form the leadership council. These selected players serve as the team’s leaders and liaisons to the coaches.
“For her, that’s a really big deal — for any first-year in that position, it’s a really big deal,” Dallmeyer said. “I think that she is just really taking advantage of all the opportunities Lehigh has to offer, but also the team has to offer her as well.”
The team’s competitive season ended in October, and for the first time Havas will experience an offseason, as field hockey is played year-round in the Netherlands. Havas expects she will still go to the field on her own to keep improving her skills and practice with teammates.
She said she’ll miss playing games throughout the year, but because the Lehigh team played more games in its season than her team back home would have, she said it makes up for the lack of an indoor winter season.
As for her next three seasons, Havas is excited to see what accomplishments the program will make.
“This year, we had small successes,” Havas said. “We’ve been working so hard to get the level up and achieving our goals — and (beating) Lafayette was one of them — so I’m really excited to see the future of field hockey and if I can make an impact on that.”