Caitlin Van Sickle picked up a golf club at a very early age, which isn’t surprising since her mother used to be the head professional at DuPont Country Club. But it’s a different kind of stick that has led Van Sickle from the playing fields at Tower Hill School to the bright lights of Rio de Janerio, where she’ll be part of the United States Field Hockey Team that will compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Van Sickle knows she has reached the very top of her sport. A talented basketball player can dream of playing in the WNBA, a golfer can aspire to earn her LPGA tour card and a tennis player can fantasize about trying to return a Serena Williams serve at Wimbledon, but there is no professional field hockey league ready to draft a world-class player like Van Sickle and make her rich and famous.
“This is definitely the ultimate,” Van Sickle said. “As a high school and college player your No. 1 goal is to make the national team and play in the Olympics. That’s what you dream about. Making this team is the pinnacle in this sport.”
Van Sickle and the rest of the United States team will get together in Houston on July 28 for pre-Olympics processing and they’re scheduled to arrive in Rio on July 30. They’ll start chasing the gold on Aug. 6, when the fifth-seeded U.S. takes on second-seeded Argentina in a Pool B match-up. Other Pool B teams are No. 3 Australia, No. 7 Great Britain, No. 10 Japan and No. 13 India.
This is Van Sickle’s first Olympics, and she’s glad that her schedule has kept her so busy that she hasn’t had time to be nervous. She was named to the team on July 1, and she’ll be teammates with a field hockey veteran from Delaware, Kate Falgowski, the former St. Mark’s star who will be competing in her third Olympics.
Van Sickle and Falgowski also played together at University of North Carolina, and three other of her U.S. teammates are also former Tar Heels. And Van Sickle has competed with or against almost all of the U.S. team members at some time because the team is mostly stocked with players from the mid-Atlantic area – the U.S. roster has 18 players (including two alternates) and 10 of them are from Southeastern Pennsylvania. Two are from Delaware, two are from New Jersey, two are from New York and Virginia and North Carolina can claim one each.
“We played against each other in high school for two years, and we were on the same team at UNC for three years, so I’ve known her for a while,” Van Sickle said of Falgowski. “So it’s nice to have her as a teammate, somebody I can turn to if I have any questions. And of the five of us from UNC – I played with all but one of them in college. It makes things a lot more comfortable and that allows you to play your best hockey.”
Van Sickle and the rest of the U.S. team know they can’t have a repeat of the last Olympics in London, when the U.S. team finished in 12th place after finishing eighth four years earlier in Beijing. Since then, the team has hired a new coach, Craig Parnham, and he’s selected a team that has a good mixture of veterans like Falgowski (nine U.S. team members have Olympics experience) and rookies like Van Sickle.
The team played well in recent international tournaments, including a Gold medal at the Pan American Games and a Bronze medal at the recent Champions Trophy, a prestigious international tournament in London featuring the best teams in the world. It was the first time the U.S. took home a medal from the Champions Trophy in 21 years.
“We feel confident because we’ve put in a lot of hard work the last four years to get where we are today,” Van Sickle said. “We just want to build on our strengths and not look too far ahead. We learned a lot in London and our performance there gave us all a lot of confidence going to Rio.”
Van Sickle gives her golf-loving mother a lot of credit for her success on the pitch, mainly because Lori Van Sickle never forced her daughter to spend hours on a putting green.
“Of course, she introduced us to golf at an early age and encouraged us to learn how to play,” Caitlyn Van Sickle said. “I was like maybe two years old and I was smacking those little plastic balls around the house with this big plastic club. But she never forced us to play competitively and to become obsessed with golf. She stressed the fact that golf is a life-long game and never put pressure on us, and now when I go home I enjoy going out with her to play nine holes. She made sure that golf was fun, not an obligation.
“That has a lot to do with where I am now,” Van Sickle added. “My mother gave us the freedom to play whatever sports we wanted, or to not even play them at all. That’s why I was able to get involved with field hockey and that’s why I’ve been able to realize my dream of playing in the Olympics.”