The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


After coming to Penn in the fall of 2019, Elita van Staden quickly became one of the top performers of the Penn field hockey team.

Credit: Son Nguyen

In the “Revisiting the Breakout” series, The Daily Pennsylvanian looks back at some of the athletes that burst on the scene for the Quakers in 2019. Due to COVID-19, these breakout players, along with the rest of their teammates, sat on the sidelines in 2020 after the Ivy League canceled fall and winter sports. Now, with the 2021 fall athletics season around the corner, this series looks to check in with these athletes as they get ready to build on their standout 2019 campaigns. 

When Elita van Staden came to Penn in the fall of 2019, the South Africa native had a lot to adjust to. She was in an entirely new country playing with new teammates, coaches, and playing styles. It did not take van Staden long to settle in, however, as she quickly became one of the Quakers’ top performers. The 2019 second-team All-Ivy selection led Penn with seven goals and 14 points in only 13 starts.

The Ivy League’s decision to cancel the 2020 fall athletics season prevented van Staden from not only having the chance to repeat her breakout freshman campaign, but also from being with her teammates. Van Staden was unable to come to Penn for the entirety of the fall semester, and it wasn’t until the spring that she was able to rejoin her teammates to train for the upcoming 2021 season.

While Penn and the rest of the Ivy League practiced for 2021, other schools across the country had resumed playing games in 2020 while the Quakers were sidelined.

“We actually watched other schools play against each other, and we weren’t able to do it ourselves, which is very frustrating,” van Staden said. “As a team, we used that as our fuel as well, to know that we have to be as prepared as possible going into the coming season because a lot of schools are ahead of us right now.”

To avoid falling behind, van Staden and Penn did whatever they could to simulate playing live field hockey. Often, this meant intersquad scrimmages designed to mimic the pace of play in a regular season competition.

“In the spring, we really put in the hard work,” van Staden said. “We were really focused on improving ourselves to be ready when the season comes. We had full matches against ourselves, so that really helped get that competitiveness going and [get] that feeling of playing a game.”

Van Staden is confident that the Red and Blue have done a good job making the best of their season on the sidelines. She thinks that the extra time has allowed the Quakers to get a leg up on their Ivy counterparts, who may not have gone through such rigorous offseason training.

“I think we were one of the only Ivies that actually tried to do a bit more even though we couldn’t play,” van Staden said. “So, I think out of all the Ivies we trained together the most, which I think is going to be a big thing going into Ivy play.”

She also feels more confident in her own preparation for the season, as she no longer has the same learning curve that she did in 2019, when she had to adopt to a whole new playing style and environment. 

“I feel a bit more relaxed than I did in my freshman year because I know what to expect now,” van Staden said. “I know the coaches a lot better, and I know the team very well by now. For me personally, I’m very excited to play.”

Van Staden will look to pick up where she left off in 2019, where she became one of Penn’s biggest contributors toward the end of the season. She will also look to help the Quakers improve on the 4-3 conference record they had in 2019. 

The Red and Blue have their sights set on a trip to the Ivy League title game in 2021, and van Staden will play a large part in the team’s ability to reach that goal.