Atholton alumna Jen Bleakney had a lot of success wearing a Raiders uniform.
In addition to being named The Baltimore Sun's female Athlete of the Year for the 2014-15 school year, she is a two-time Howard County outdoor track Athlete of the Year, the 2015 indoor track Athlete of the Year and the 2014 field hockey Player of the Year.
As a senior at Atholton, Bleakney scored a county-best 31 goals to go along with 16 assists while helping lead the Raiders' field hockey team to a share of their first county championship since 2005.
But none of that compared to what she accomplished during her freshman season on the Syracuse University field hockey team.
Bleakney, who played in 15 games (starting two) and was named to the National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-Academic Team, was part of the program's first-ever National Championship team in the fall when the top-ranked Orange beat North Carolina, 4-2, in the title game in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Nov. 22.
Bleakney recently took some time out of her busy summer schedule to talk to sports reporter Tim Schwartz about her freshman year, what it was like playing for the best team in the country, which finished the season 21-1, how much her running background helped her and what it was like traveling to Germany this spring to play for the U-19 team.
So you just finished your freshman year at Syracuse University and you got to play for a National Championship team. What was that experience like in your first year?
It was unreal; crazy to be able to finish like that. It's an indescribable experience. So much goes into it. It was unreal to be in my freshman year and go through that. There was so much that went into it — the training, the team and everyone worked so hard for it.
How surreal was it to jump right from high school onto a National Championship team that was the best in the country all season long?
Going from high school — everyone in college has such crazy strength. You have girls who play internationally. We have girls from the Netherlands and from other countries who come together and everyone is so talented and bring something different to the team. It's cool to see it all come together. Girls have skills in different areas and for everyone to come together and make one team out of individuals is like a really crazy experience. It was amazing to see.
What was the National Championship game like and what was the moment like when you won it?
Oh my God, the minutes counting down it was like, this is it — we're going to be National Champions. When the buzzer went off our team was just going crazy. It was something that everyone on the team worked so hard for and the coaching staff worked for and everyone put their all in during the season. Winning and realizing all the hard work paid off was amazing.
You started a few games, but ultimately what did you feel like your role was on the team last year, and how do you see your role changing this upcoming season?
As a freshman it was definitely so hard to come onto a team that had so many talented girls. This year, I'm really excited to hopefully step up and be able to have a huge role on the team. But everyone adds in their own pieces during training and other stuff.
You were the field hockey Player of the Year in Howard County in 2014 and set several records, but what was the biggest transition you had to make coming from high school to the best Division-I team in the country?
The discipline and how much it takes over your whole life; it's a lifestyle. You have to be at practice and then be at certain things. People think playing a sport, you only go as long as your practice, but you have to watch video and take notes and be at meetings and run straight from class to practice and then run from practice to class. It's all the extra stuff that goes into it that people don't think about and you don't think about anything past practice and games. ... You have to do everything. There's just so much preparation that goes into everything and all the games.
How tough is it for you balancing school and being a Division-I athlete?
There's so much support. There's so many people to help tutor you or help you, and it's hard to do badly. Obviously I have to work hard and stuff, but there's so many people here to help. It can definitely get complicated, but it works out.
You were such a dominating runner during high school. How much did all those years of running competitively help you during the field hockey season?
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Oh, a ton. My coach told me like, 'You are going to be an example and you are going to be the fastest on the team, and you're going to have to set the standard for our running tests.' She would always use that as a way to show how, as a player, to do certain things. I think running definitely gave me an edge. It gave me my own kind of specialty I can use on the field, too.
You went to Germany in May to represent the United States in a three-game test series with the U-19 team and scored a pair of goals. What was that experience like?
It was amazing. It was a really great experience. We obviously got our butts kicked because Germany is amazing and they train all the time together. Just being in Germany in general was awesome, and the level of hockey there is so great. The girls are all so good and so strong and they never let up. I think it was a good experience for our team and our girls to be able to see that and take that home and see how hard they train.
What's the best thing about being a Division-I athlete?
Just being on the team. I've become so close to my teammates, it's like having 20 sisters. It's really amazing and I love my teammates more than anything. Just being able to make those bonds.
This is the time of the year where some of the Division-I athletes start to head to their schools and start summer classes and join their team's training programs. After going through it last year, what advice would you give to someone about to head to school?
Just to try your best and have a positive outlook. Be open to feedback and be open to change, and prepare yourself the best you can for what's ahead. And really just have fun. It gets kind of hard and things get complicated sometimes, but really it's about having fun.