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Bel Air Native, Former Maryland Field Hockey Star Linnea Gonzales Has Sights Set On Olympics

September 11, 2019
Former Maryland field hockey star Linnea Gonzales really isn't unlike most young folks just out of college. She gets up every day and drives to work, puts in a full day and then drives home.

The only difference is Gonzales is working on an Olympic dream she has had since she was a youngster. Until recently, she was driving every weekday from her Bel Air, Md., home to Lancaster, Pa., to train at "The Nook" with the United States women's national field hockey team. And yes, it's a full-time job.

"We have two practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9-to-11, break for a meeting and then go 2-to-4," she explained. "We have a workout and practice on Monday, and also Wednesday and Friday, then we have weekends off."

Throw in the hour drive and it's a full day in a full week, even for an Olympic-caliber athlete like Gonzales, the 2018 Longstreth/NFHCA Division I Mid-Atlantic Region Player of the Year.

Oh, and Gonzales also has business trips as a perk of her stick-wielding profession. The talented midfielder was on business in Lima, Peru at the Pan American Games late this summer. She even brought home a souvenir, a bronze medal, after the 13th-ranked U.S. team downed Chile 5-1 in the third place game. Canada had knocked off the U.S., 2-0, in the semifinals of the eight-team tournament.

"It was a good experience," Gonzales said of the Pan Am trip. "Once we got there it was definitely a different style than we were used to. We had a lot to learn."

The U.S. had primarily gone against European teams before and a style of game more common in the United States because of so many college players from across the Atlantic. The Pan Am games were full of South American teams with different formations and more improvisational attacks.

There's another big trip coming up, too, as Gonzales and Co., travel to India for a best two-out-of-three in early November with a spot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on the line. Twelve teams will qualify, and five spots have already been claimed -- by host Japan, The Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina, the Pan Am champ.

"That's the dream," said Gonzales. "That's what we've all been working for."

Gonzales, like so many of her teammates, has been working for that dream most of her life, or at least since she started playing as a 7-year-old. 

"I started playing, and at Maryland watching Katie [O'Donnell Bam] play, and seeing her on the national team, that's always been a dream of mine, too," Gonzales said.

Gonzales was a ballgirl at Terrapin games, idolizing her heroines like Bam, who is now an assistant coach for the perpetually powerful program and was a two-time Olympian and four-time All-American. The national team call literally came for Gonzales the end of her senior season last fall when head coach Missy Meharg put her on the phone with Janneke Schopman, the national team coach.

"Missy called me into her office and she said, 'We have a phone call for you to take,'" Gonzales recalled. "And I didn't know what was happening. Katie was there, too. I was like, 'Is my mom on the phone?' But it was Janneke and she asked me if I wanted to join the team full time."

So Gonzales' future field hockey fate was sealed even before the Terrapins closed out their 22-3, Big Ten championship, national runner-up season. She left school to begin training at her sport's highest level. A criminology major with one semester left to complete her degree, she plans to finish up as soon as her hectic schedule allows. Gonzales recently did one thing to make her daily routine a little less hectic. She moved to Lancaster, Pa., to eliminate her commute.

Gonzales has been in field hockey for the long haul ever since she can remember. 

"There's just something about when I had the stick in my hand and I could just play," Gonzales said. "I don't know. It just became my passion, something I loved and wanted to work on and get better each day. I don't think that has ever gone away. There's always stuff you can improve on and keep getting better. That's how I like to think of it. You're never done, never done learning."

That stick she picked up as a child has now taken her all over the world. Besides Peru this summer and winning a silver medal in Trinidad & Tobago in 2016 at the Women's Junior Pan Am Games, she has also competed in Chile and spent a month in Europe, perhaps her favorite journey.

"It was so cool seeing how big the sport is there," she said. "There was a like a field hockey field or a little kid with a field hockey stick running around all over. I hope someday we can have that here in the States, take the game to a higher level here. That's another dream."

Gonzales credits her Maryland Terrapin roots for much of her success at the highest level. Bam has been a mentor for her and Meharg has made her not just a better player, but a better person, she said. 

"I think about everything she has taught me and given me, and how it has got me to where I am today," Gonzales said. "She has made me tough mentally and emotionally. She makes her players leaders on and off the field. I'm so thankful for that. She taught us optimism and staying positive and making the best of the situation handed to you."

Gonzales helped create some great situations with the Terrapins, racking up a 75-19 record in her four years with three Big Ten championships and two trips to the NCAA finals. She was Big Ten Player of the Year last season and led the Terps with 14 goals and 33 total points. Gonzales was Big Ten tournament MVP, and started every game throughout her four-year career, finishing with 43 goals and 13 assists.

She also played four seasons at Patterson Mill High School and played in the state finals her junior year. She was named the 2013 Baltimore Sun All-Metro Player of the Year and high school All-American among numerous other honors. Her H2O club team won three national indoor championships, and then it was on to College Park, Md.

"Ever since I was little, my heart was always with Maryland," she said. "I just knew that's where I wanted to go. And then once I visited campus, and was with the team and the coaches, I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.' There's such a family atmosphere. You don't get that everywhere."

Gonzales has another former Terrapin, Anna Dessoye, on the team as well. They have a chance to become the seventh and eighth of Meharg's players to play in the Olympics.

After playing forward much of her career at Maryland, Gonzales shifted to a center midfield role with the Terrapins late in her career, and midfield is where she's playing with the U.S. squad.

"It's a lot of running," she laughed. "But I don't mind. I love distributing the ball, attacking and playing defense."

Then again, there's not much about field hockey that Gonzales doesn't love.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of USA Field Hockey/Mark Palczewski