If there’s one thing that field hockey has taught Erin Kelly, it’s that persistence is key to getting through uncertain times.
Hailing from Bethlehem, Pa., senior Erin Kelly is a midfielder for Penn field hockey. Despite playing the sport for 11 years, field hockey was not Kelly’s first choice.
“My sisters had played and started later, like in high school, and then came back and said to my mom, she needed to start me early because there were so many younger girls’ tournaments that they went to," Kelly said.
Kelly began her field hockey career in eighth grade just going through the motions, admitting that she was only playing it for her sisters. Gradually, however, Kelly began to love field hockey, and when college application deadlines approached, finding a school that allowed her to balance field hockey and academics was her main priority.
“I was looking at NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference], thinking that was the only way I’d be able to balance … what I wanted out of college," Kelly said. "As I was going through the recruiting process freshman year of high school, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get that. … And I remember that’s why I was happy that Penn came into the picture because I didn’t think it was going to be possible to find that balance, and that’s what really stuck out to me when I was here.”
Luckily for Penn, Kelly brought her skills to Philadelphia, receiving an Ivy League honorable mention and setting a personal record in goals and assists in her sophomore and junior year, respectively.
Playing field hockey in college, however, was much different in comparison to field hockey in middle and high school. From the little things, like the surface of the field, to the big things, like the opposing team’s strengths, everything was an adjustment.
“It was calming to know that the game itself didn’t change, it just got faster and people made less mistakes," Kelly said. "When you’re playing with bigger name teams, getting on the field is the first part, but when you’re playing, you don’t remember the name on the back of the jersey. You’re just playing at that point.”
Losing five consecutive games in her junior year was also something that took some getting used to from Kelly. However, from something bad stemmed something good, as Kelly learned important life lessons from the hard days in field hockey.
“College athletics, in general, has taught me that I can go through anything and be fine," Kelly said. "There are so many emotional and physical ups and downs that make me realize how much I can push myself. The sun will still rise, no matter what happens on or off the field.”
Not only did she gain important lessons, but she also gained her first win against Syracuse on no other perfect day than on her birthday.
Of course, Kelly didn’t get to this position alone. Kelly's family and team were what kept her motivated through all the tough times. Her older sister played field hockey at Franklin & Marshall, so she has been able to gain valuable insight on how the sport is played from her.
Despite COVID-19, Kelly’s goal for the incoming field hockey freshman is to experience the same team spirit that she's enjoyed for the past three years. This includes virtual team workouts and bonding exercises because, according to Kelly, the best memories of field hockey come at spontaneous moments with the team.
Still a student, Kelly also makes sure to prioritize her academics. As a History major and Sustainability Environmental Management minor, Kelly admits that everything is a work in progress. With the huge amount of work she’s given, plus the demanding field hockey schedule, Kelly realizes that she can’t do it all.
“[I] have to remember that I’m not going to check every box, or else I’m not going to get enough sleep or I’ll never be able to see friends or take care of yourself, mentally or emotionally … I need to just know what I can do," Kelly said.
As this chapter in her college career closes, another one opens for Kelly as she prepares for graduate school. Because of the wide breadth of environmental management-centered programs and internships, Kelly is kept busy with narrowing down her options.
Wherever her goals end up taking her, Kelly will remember to go through each obstacle with her head held high, filled with the lessons of resilience she learned from her years as a field hockey star.