For Penn field hockey’s Helene Caniglia, going home and visiting the family doesn’t necessarily mean a break from athletics.
The current junior midfield has four siblings, all of whom played or currently plays a sport in college. Two sisters, Jamie and Steffi, played field hockey at Holy Cross and Villanova, respectively. Another sister, Nicole, played lacrosse at Temple, and twin brother Vincent currently plays football at Catholic.
For Helene and her siblings, extensive involvement in sports — ranging from horseback riding to lacrosse — started at a young age.
“Growing up, my dad had us play everything,” Helene said. “From soccer, gymnastics, basketball … anything, you name it.”
Her diverse and extensive background in sports has been key for her skill development on the field. “After playing all those different sports, I’m able to connect them. [For example] on defense, I think about how we played defense in basketball, and how my dad coached me through that,” she added.
Helene has been an extremely important player for the Red and Blue, especially on the defensive end. She has started every game since coming to Penn and led the team last year in defensive saves. “She’s just very competitive,” coach Colleen Fink said. “When that opening whistle blows, there’s like a flip that switches in her and she definitely turns it on.”
That competitive drive certainly runs in the family. Every year, the Caniglias hold their own “Turkey Bowl,” a family tradition. The charming name belies an intense, often mud-covered game of football that involves the entire family, along with boyfriends and husbands. “It’s supposed to be two-hand touch,” Steffi said, “but it always turns into tackle. It’s very competitive, and there’s always a lot of yelling and screaming.”
Jamie echoed that sentiment. “It gets pretty competitive,” she said. “There’s always some tears.”
Things haven’t been all bad for Helene, though — “I think Helene and Vincent and my parents’ team have won for the past three or four year,” Steffi said. Jamie’s explanation? “They cheat.”
Competitive spirit aside, Helene describes her family as being extremely supportive, even before she stepped onto a college field. In fact, her decision to play field hockey at Penn was influenced by watching her sisters play.
“Just watching them play their college games, I just decided that that was definitely what I wanted to do,” she said.
“I remember [Helene] looking at colleges and looking at where to play field hockey, and I think it was nice for her because all of us did have experience playing sports in college. I think it was good for her to see what we went through and she took our advice and saw that Penn was a great fit for her,” Steffi said.
Now that she’s at Penn, her family continues to offer support and encouragement. “She definitely still asks for advice, on the field and off the field,” Steffi said.
“I call my sisters basically after every game,” Helene said. “[Steffi and I] kind of play in similar positions, so she’s great to talk to right after the game — she’s sort of like a fifth coach.”
“She was always a great person to play with, because she does always listen to advice,” Jamie said.
Helene’s competitive drive and hard work have definitely not gone unnoticed, which may portend good things to come in the future.
“As long as she continues in her commitment to the team and continues to work extremely hard, I do see her stepping into [a leadership] type of role,” Fink said.
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