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Phila. suburbs keep producing field hockey MVPs

Is there another college sport in which one area provides as much talent as the Philadelphia suburbs routinely offer up in field hockey?

Olivia Bolles. (Lou Rabito/Staff)
Olivia Bolles. (Lou Rabito/Staff)Read more

Is there another college sport in which one area provides as much talent as the Philadelphia suburbs routinely offer up in field hockey?

The National Field Hockey Coaches Association player of the year award, a relatively new honor, was announced Tuesday, and it went to Connecticut's Marie Elena Bolles, a star of the Huskies' run to the NCAA championship.

As usual - as always, in fact - the association's top award went to a woman from the local suburbs. Bolles is from Phoenixville, a Villa Maria Academy graduate. Although she was a star at Villa, Bolles talked about herself as kind of an underdog winner in that she hadn't been a dominant goal scorer for most of her time at UConn.

If anyone had told her as a freshman that she would be player of the year, Bolles said, "I probably would have laughed. My coaches, they believed in me. They saw something no one else really saw - including me."

There is some modesty involved there. Bolles had a hat trick this season against Georgetown and topped that with four goals against then-nationally-ranked Temple. Interestingly, she was UConn's second-leading goal scorer and second in assists.

Maybe voters saw something else, too.

"I was cramping up at the end of the UNC game; I couldn't feel my legs," she said, referring to UConn's NCAA semifinal victory over North Carolina in overtime. "Maybe people noticed."

UConn assistant coach Paul Caddy mentioned that Bolles was player of the year as a nursing major who usually got up at 5 a.m. for clinical work this semester.

She arrived as a "superior athlete - she has that speed that you can't teach," Caddy said. "Her skills had to catch up with her athleticism."

All the great players they have had at UConn, he said, have done the extra work on their technique. They also have shared a competitiveness.

"Any team that wins a championship has to have some people who can't stand to lose," Caddy said.

Bolles said that UConn coach Nancy Stevens was the first to recruit her. Stevens said she had noticed that Bolles had run in the Penn Relays for Villa. That immediately caught her eye.

"Her speed - that is what separates her," Stevens said. "Sometimes people with a lot of talent tend to not work as hard. She really is gifted, yet she doesn't rely on those gifts to contribute. When your teammates see you never taking a play off in practice, that's going to lift the whole team. That's the quality of a winner."

The player of the year award was first presented in 2010. All four recipients, from four colleges, have been from the Philadelphia suburbs. Last year, it was Princeton's Katie Reinprecht (North Wales, Mount St. Joseph). In 2010, Maryland's Katie O'Donnell, a Wissahickon High graduate, won it.

In 2011, North Carolina's Katelyn Falgowski took top honors. Falgowski went to high school at St. Mark's in Wilmington but lived in Landenberg, Chester County.

This year, the NCAA noted that Pennsylvania provided 29 percent of the participants in the Final Four, even though no Pennsylvania teams were in it.

Stevens, the UConn coach, played for West Chester's 1975 national title team. She can trace her roots to the legendary Eleanor Snell at Ursinus, through her own West Chester coach, Vonnie Gros, another Hall of Famer in the sport.

The sport began here as an import from England to the women's colleges, Stevens said. It became a fixture at clubs such as Merion Cricket Club, and most of the early national-team players were from Philadelphia.

"It radiated out from there," Stevens said.

"Because of the strong tradition in that area, you have great coaching, and you have some of the better athletes gravitate to the sport," Caddy said.

Bolles may not know the whole history - her coach said she keeps it to UConn history when she's talking - but Bolles knows that the national team has moved its training center to Lancaster, in part because so many U.S. team players are from the area.

Her own sister, Olivia, also was a Huskies starter as a freshman this season. Marie Elena said that was the best part of the whole run, having her best friend on the field with her. 

Connecticut's coach remembered that Olivia also had run in the Penn Relays. Another fast Philly girl.