Four of the 25 players on the Lehigh field hockey team are based in the Netherlands. While 3,700 miles away in Lehigh, they find comfort in each other and share a love of their sport and their country.
Sophomore Guusje Hogendoorn, freshman Kiki Mes, junior Lotte Smorenburg and senior Sarah Bonthuis are all Dutch. Although each of them had different experiences in finding Lehigh, all saw an opportunity in playing in the United States.
Bonthuis, a native of Oud-Beijerland, Netherlands, said field hockey is one of the biggest sports in the Netherlands and many children grow up playing. But when it came time to start looking at colleges, she said there weren’t many opportunities in her home country.
Bonthuis said the Netherlands doesn’t have the college combination of athletics and academics like the United States because universities in the Netherlands keep the two independent.
“If you don’t live on campus at a school in the Netherlands, you can’t play sports,” Bonthuis said. “All separate.”
Bonthuis said she thinks that’s why so many Dutch women went to school in the United States, because academics and athletics are highly regarded together.
Mes from Maastricht, Netherlands, sAid She believes the biggest difference from her home country is the number of practices and games she plays at Lehigh. The team usually has four training sessions and two games per week, while in the Netherlands there are only three training sessions and one game.
Smorenburg, who started playing field hockey when she was six, said she played on club teams throughout high school before beginning her college recruitment process by joining a Dutch recruitment agency.
Smorenburg said the agency helps Dutch high school students create academic and field hockey resumes that can be sent to schools across the United States. Smorenburg created a field hockey highlights video and also took part in a show that was broadcast live to American coaches. This is where Lehigh trainer Caitlin Dallmeyer found her.
Dallmeyer said that children in the Netherlands are exposed to the sport from a young age, making it one of the best targets for player recruitment. she said Athletes from the Netherlands have proven to be competent for their age, academically prepared and socially and emotionally maturewhich makes it easier to change universities.
Mes, Smorenburg and Hogendoorn said applying to college in another country was particularly difficult during COVID-19, so they relied on online programs like Zoom and Skype to better understand the opportunities Lehigh had to offer to understand.
Smorenburg said she will be able to visit the campus in the fall of her senior year of high school and is impressed with Lehigh’s academics and athletic facilities. Similarly, Mes said that Lehigh was at the top of her list when she first started looking at schools.
“Lehigh came into the process pretty early and I immediately thought it would be a good fit,” Mes said.
Being far from home and family, Hogendoorn said she was able to speak Dutch with the other players from the Netherlands, which helped when she was homesick.
“It’s super nice to have other people around who know where you come from and what you’re going through,” said Hogendoorn.
Similarly, Smorenburg said it helps to have others to relate to.
“Lehigh had a very welcoming environment and I think it’s quite an internationally oriented university with a lot of people from different countries,” Smorenburg said. “I immediately felt at home and I think a lot of people, like my other Dutch team-mates, feel that way.”
Bonthuis said Dallmeyer originally came with the goal of rebuilding the team and its mindset, and part of that focused on recruiting at least one international athlete for each new class.
Dallmeyer said she understands the complexities of recruiting international athletes and therefore prioritizes building trusting relationships with her athletes.
“Because we rarely have the opportunity to personally assess them without being able to visit their home country, they often make a decision about Lehigh without ever being on campus,” Dallmeyer said.
In her senior year of high school, Bonthuis said those goals originally brought her to Lehigh.
“The goals she said were really interesting to me,” said Bonthuis. “I always enjoy being part of a program where you can help rebuild, and after those four years you can look back and (see that you) did something good.”
The Mountain Hawks are 5-5 this season and have won their last three games in a row.