Atholton standout forward Jen Bleakney has committed to Syracuse and has already put some simple advice from her future coach Ange Bradley to good use.
"This summer, I was at a Syracuse camp and coach told me to just play and have fun," Bleakney said. "That allowed me to relax and let myself loose."
That's good news for the No. 7 Raiders (10-1) and bad news for opponents. A four-year varsity player, Bleakney has totaled 23 goals and 15 assists this season for Atholton, which captured the program's first state title in Bleakney's sophomore year and appears primed to add another this season.
Bleakney, who has been playing field hockey for five years, is a quick study. This summer, she participated in theU.S. Women's Junior National Under-17 camp and she also plays for the WC Eagles club team in Pottsville, Pa.
Along with playing field hockey and running on the track team, Bleakney is the secretary for the Best Buddies Program, which establishes one-on-one friendships for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She's also a member of the school's Bully Free Forever Club and is a Special Olympics coach.
Bleakney has a 3.6 GPA, and plans to study special education at Syracuse. She is an intern at Atholton Middle School's recreation program, where she works with special education and pre-school children.
What has been the key to this successful senior season?
Coming into the season, we kind of knew that everyone was really skilled. Coming off last year, we lost four really good seniors and we knew it would be hard to come back from that. But I think everybody just kind of pulled it all together and realized we had the potential to be really great.
What's it like playing forward?
I love playing forward. It's so fun to be up there dodging around girls and working together with my other forwards to score goals. Our team is so good with getting it up the field together from the back. We have really good midfielders that transfer the ball up the field really well and we have amazing forwards that really finish it all.
What makes a successful goal scorer in field hockey?
I'd say rebounds and going after your shot. The first shot doesn't always go in, so the second shot and catching the goalie off guard is really big.
What do you recall most from the state title win in your sophomore year?
I remember in the last minute, we had a corner and we were playing it out really slowly. We were changing our positions and kind of running the clock down because we didn't want the ball to get out and have something happen in the last minute. And then, knowing that we were going to win, we only had 10 seconds left and then the buzzer ran out. The feeling that you get when you know that it's done and you've gotten what you've deserved was amazing. We all ran and tackled our goalie and we were all crying because we were so happy because we knew we deserved it and we wanted it more.
Do you see any similarities with this year's team and the one that won the state title?
The connection we have on the field. That sophomore year we had a connection that was amazing. You knew where your teammates were and you didn't even have to say anything. And it's the same thing this year. Everybody is very selfless. Everyone is passing and communicating really well and playing together as a team.
What was the experience like participating at the U.S. Women's Junior National Under-17 camp over the summer?
It was amazing. I got to be coached by some of the top coaches in the country, a lot of college coaches and the national team coaches. We trained with the U-19 and U-21 players, so getting to train with girls that are at that level, you learn so much from them and the different coaches. Everyone has a different perspective on hockey and brings different stuff.
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The day I went there, I just fell in love with it — the spirit. I like how it's a medium-sized school, not like a huge school where I may feel I'll get lost. It's just a perfect place and the team is amazing, they're all really laid back girls who all have the same goal. The coaches are amazing and they're all working toward the same thing, which is great to see.