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Patterson Mill's Linnea Gonzales a top recruit and Olympic field hockey hopeful

Linnea Gonzales, Patterson Mill's standout junior midfielder, is rarely found without a field hockey stick in her hand.

"Every time I've picked her up, whether it's 7 o'clock in the morning or 5 o'clock at night, she's in the driveway with a ball and a stick," said Janice Rhodes, Gonzales' club team coach.

If that's the first thing you notice about Gonzales, the second is that she's almost impossible to catch on the field. The midfielder's blazing speed gives defenders fits and is helping put her on the fast track to her dream — a spot on the U.S. Olympic field hockey team.

Gonzales, who last month verbally committed to the University of Maryland, is considered by many to be the nation's top junior prospect. In July, she was one of just 23 players selected for USA Field Hockey's Under-17 junior national team, progressing through the ranks after starting as one of more than 6,000 hopefuls in the organization's Futures program.

Next up could be the Under-19 or Under-21 teams, if all goes well. It's her desire to progress that drives the 16-year-old to spend hours on end working to hone her dribbling and shooting skills.

"The more you're practicing, the better you'll get," said Gonzales, who last year was the only sophomore picked for the All-State first-team by the Maryland State High School Field Hockey Coaches Association.

"One day I hope to be in the Olympics," she said, "so I just want to reach that point."

When not hitting the ball with friends Sydney and Sabrina Rhodes — longtime club teammates and stars in their own right at top-ranked C. Milton Wright — Gonzales often can be found in the backyard hitting with her mother, Robin, or alone at the field, shooting on an empty goal.

"When she sees something that she's not able to do, she practices until she gets it," Patterson Mill coach Shannon Swinscoe said. "She just has such a passion for the game. She's got the determination to be better than anyone, honestly."

Gonzales' parents first became aware of their daughter's talents shortly after enrolling her in rec ball in third grade.

"I don't know that we really noticed so much as other people telling us she had a little bit of skill," Robin Gonzales said. "She just loved to play."

Swinscoe met her a couple years later, when Gonzales attended one of the coach's clinics. It wasn't long before the fledgling star was playing for Swinscoe's Harford Hockey Organization (H2O) club team.

Competing in 5-on-5 indoor hockey for much of the year, on less-crowded turf fields, Gonzales' stick skills quickly came to the forefront.

Rhodes, a fellow H2O coach who is also the head coach at C. Milton Wright, said that when opposing defenses played her team man-to-man, she'd often shift the other four players to one side of the field, letting Gonzales take the ball endline to endline for the shot.

"Her stick skills are unlike anyone else's for a girl her age," Rhodes said. "She is almost prodigy-like. There aren't kids her age, or even older, who have those kinds of stick skills. She's very quick, shifts her body weight and has speed like no one I've ever coached or even seen play."

Swinscoe learned the true extent of that speed when Gonzales was a freshman on the day, at the start of the season, when Patterson Mill's coach clocked her players in the mile.

"The kid runs a 5:33, and she's not tired afterwards," Swinscoe recalled. "That's what was impressive. She gets a sip of water, then she starts fiddling with a ball on the stick, while two minutes later everyone else is dying."

In the years since, that raw athletic ability has transformed into a mostly-polished product. Gonzales finished this regular season with 25 goals and 16 assists for the Huskies (9-4-1), who open the Class 1A North regional playoffs Thursday at home against two-time defending state champion Fallston.

She has scored in all but one of her team's 14 games, including a seven-goal effort last month against Rising Sun. And many believe the best is yet to come.

"I absolutely think she's going to be in the Olympics," Swinscoe said.

"Only time will tell," Gonzales added, "but it will take a lot of hard work."

It's an effort the teen is happy to make.

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