Aug 20, 2013
Senior/junior University of Michigan field hockey captain Ainsley McCallister got her first taste of international competition this summer, representing the United States at the quadrennial Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, Germany. McCallister, who redshirted the 2012 season with injury, appeared in all six games for Team USA, which posted a 3-3 record en route to seventh place, matching the U.S. junior program's best finish in six appearances at the prestigious event.
Three weeks removed from her experience abroad -- and nearly a week into the Wolverines' preseason training and preparation -- McCallister sat down to discuss the trip, the international level of play and how the experience has made her a better player.
Q: What were your expectations going into this experience?
A: My whole attitude going into tryouts for this junior team was to control the controllables. I didn't really have any expectations to make the team. I didn't have doubts per se, but I didn't set any expectations. I just played the game I love, and every time I stepped out on the field, I wanted to show them that I can play. So, with that mentality, it allowed me to experience this wonderful event.
Q: What was it like playing at that level of competition?
A: It was awesome. I think everyone at that level makes everyone else look and play better. They trap every ball. Every pass is crisp and smooth along the turf, which allows you to just pick it up and go. Some of the Argentinian and Dutch players are so much quicker and skilled than everyone I've ever played, so it taught me to adapt my skill choice and just do things a little earlier. It was a lot of fun.
Q: Do you think you rose up to that level? Were you pleased with how you played?
A: I think my competitive level rose quite a bit. I'm my own biggest critic, so I would have loved to have played better in a few of the games. But given the circumstances of it being my first international event, I do think that I performed pretty well.
Q: What were the different styles of the various teams?
A: Team USA is known for its grit and being aggressive and tenacious. The Dutch team passes beautifully. They attack the outside of the circle and get corners then their corner is drag flick to the upper corner. Our game plan changed so much based on our opponent, and it was so much fun to learn and prepare. The coaches did a great job preparing us for each team we faced, which obviously had a big impact on how well we performed.
Q: How much sightseeing did the team get to do?
A: I kind of thought of it as a business trip. When we were in the Netherlands prior to the tournament, we really just saw our hotel room and the field. You could actually see the field from our hotel rooms, so we really just stayed within that half-mile area. Once we got to Germany, we had a little more time to sightsee. We'd get a two-hour block after practice here and there to explore Monchengladbach, which was the small town near the hockey stadium. That was very neat.
Q: How did you like playing alongside all these different collegiate players? Are you looking forward to seeing them over the upcoming season?
A: The junior team is a pretty tight-knit group, because they've played together in several tournaments prior to this World Cup. As a newbie coming in, they were very welcoming and encouraging to me. They were also tough on me. Part of our team atmosphere was to push each other to be the best we could be, so we were all tough on each other during practice. Off the field, it felt like family. I just can't wait to play them all this season. I'll see some of them against UMass, Maryland, Penn State, Northwestern -- those will all be a lot of fun to see them and compete against them.
Q: How has this experience prepared you for the collegiate season? Do you think it's given you more confidence in your role as a captain?
A: I've learned so much this summer and also learned so much about what I need to improve on. I'm ready to bring those new skills and new ideas into our Michigan play. I also want to share information and help my teammates while I continue to improve myself. I like to think of myself as a leader by example. Last season, while redshirting, I didn't really have that opportunity to show them my work ethic, so I didn't really know what to do. It will be a lot more comfortable to be a leader this year, and I have a lot of confidence going into the season.