Aug. 26, 2011
By Kent Reichert
On Aug. 12, University of Michigan field hockey senior Hannah Dawson stepped onto the Ocker Field turf to begin her fourth preseason in a Maize and Blue uniform. That same day in Chapel Hill, N.C., Meghan and Melanie Dawson were getting ready for their second day of practice as members of the North Carolina field hockey team.
To have a Dawson taking part in two-a-day practices in August has become a common site in collegiate field hockey. The trio joins sisters Natalie (1997-2000) and Sarah (2001-05), both of whom attended Iowa, and Rachel (2004-07), who also went to North Carolina, as Dawsons that have played and excelled on NCAA field hockey's largest stages. Not to be outdone, their brothers also played sports in college. David played football at Monmouth University from 1995-97 and Andrew played football and baseball at Williamson Trade School from 1999-2002.
That adds up to eight siblings, all who participated in sports at college. According to Hannah, that athletic gene comes from their father, David.
"Every time anyone comes over my dad has to bring out his scrapbook," Hannah said. "He says, 'Look! Dawson Does It All," which is the name of an article. My dad is good at all of those bar games too, like pool and darts. He was also on a horseshoe team. It's kind of strange how good he is at all of these, but he is probably one of the most athletic people I know. I think we get it all from him."
That athletic gene combined with having seven siblings turned everything into a competition.
"Oh my gosh! We were very competitive," her sister Sarah said. "Pancake and taco night would become a competition; who could eat the most, who could get the last one. It is still competitive. Who looks the prettiest, who is the fastest, who had the best season. Some things will never change. I got my drive from my siblings. Whenever you think you are doing your best, they let you know and show you can do better.
"I remember being home watching TV on the couch and my brother was in high school and he would come home from wrestling practice and just start putting me in a cradle," Hannah said. "He would say 'It's making you tougher' and I would think 'This is not making me tougher.' But everything was a sport or competition."
That competition growing up has helped all of the Dawson sisters to success in college and beyond. Rachel was a member of the 2008 Olympic team and everyone has had chances to play for the U.S. National teams and Junior National Camps. Her mother and sister both say Hannah's hard work and focus had led to her success on the field.
"What I like about Hannah's game is her poise," Sarah said. "When you meet her off the field, she is a riot, but when she gets on the field she is so focused. She embraces her position and role on the team. Hannah has become a leader and I love that about her."
"She's very warm and welcoming, she's a good jokester, a good story-teller, she's into everything, she knows what's going on," their mother Karen said. "Sometimes you can look at her and not take her seriously because she's so light and jolly, but Hannah is probably one of the hardest workers I have. She works so hard and everything she achieves is because of her hard work. Sometimes things don't come to her easily, but because she just works at the things that are important to her she does well."
Hannah started her field hockey career in the fifth grade at Berlin Community School. She played with current teammate Bryn Bain in middle school and opposite U-M teammate Jess Allen, who lived in Gibbsboro.
"Eastern Berlin High School is actually made up of three districts: Voorhees, Berlin, and Gibbsboro," Hannah explained. "Voorhees is the huge town that sends 500 or 600 kids, Berlin sends about 100, and Gibbsboro sends about 40 or 50. In Berlin, we had this coach who was a big guy -- you would never think he would be a field hockey coach -- who brought out all these girls and made it fun for us. Then he would send us to Eastern, and it was the combination of Berlin and Gibbsboro that sent most of the starting lineups. About eight of the girls in the starting lineup would be from those two towns, and the rest would be from Voorhees. It's strange how it works out like that, but it was Berlin and Gibbsboro that were the huge feeder programs.
"I met Bryn and Hannah during preseason of our freshman year in high school, when we all made the varsity team," Allen said. "Before that time we all knew each other from being rivals with our middle school teams. Sometimes Hannah and I would instant message each other on the computer talking about field hockey, but Bryn and I never spoke, we were big enemies. Ironically, Bryn and I became best friends."
That bonding began when the trio played at Eastern Regional High School. They helped Eastern capture four state titles and win the 2006 New Jersey State Tournament of Champions. Eastern also was crowned the 2004 Top of the Circle national champion.
"When we were there, we won our seventh or eighth consecutive championship," Hannah said. "I won four in a row there. We were number one in the nation my freshman and junior years. We would play out of state, and it was really fun because Pennsylvania is really good at field hockey. It just became a really big deal. I think we had a 168-game win streak, and then my senior year in my last game we lost our in-state winning streak. It ended on kind of a bad note, but it was the most competitive and toughest four years I've ever played through."
All three players knew they wanted to play Division I field hockey in college. The only question was where. The process to decide on a college started in the summer of their junior year of high school. All three visited U-M and fell in love with the college.
"When I first started my journey of visiting college campuses and speaking with different coaches, I have always been told that when I step onto a campus, I would just know that's where I belong," Bain said. "Coming to Michigan and seeing its history and prestige, it was hard not to feel that way. From the instant I met the team and saw the campus, I just knew that it was going to be my future home.
"I was sold on the feelings I got from the overall atmosphere of the school," Allen said. "I just saw myself fitting right in and feeling like home. I thought to myself 'How can a school as big as Michigan be so compact?' I loved how close everything was to each other."
Karen Dawson echoed those sentiments when visiting Ann Arbor with her daughter.
"It's got that quaintness of the town," Karen said. "The university just has so much to offer. It just was a great place. It's funny because Hannah out of all the kids went to school and she never complained a day about Michigan. She never complained. She just loved it from the minute she went there. Around the holidays she might get a little homesick, but she really does love where she is."
Dawson has been a cog in the Wolverine defense from day one. She played all 20 games as a freshman for the Maize and Blue and started all 21 games her sophomore season. Last year, the dreams of a conference championship were realized for Dawson. She helped Michigan to a Big Ten regular-season championship, a Big Ten Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Her desire and will to win has shown both in high school and in college.
Hannah will take that hard work and focus into her final season at U-M. She will see Meghan and Melanie twice this season (Aug. 27 at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; Oct. 23 at North Carolina). Sarah says that she will be at the Temple and Maryland games and make visits to Ann Arbor. The Dawson parents will be hopping in the car for the long trips to Ann Arbor and Chapel Hill. They will attend Senior Day for Meghan on Oct. 23 (against U-M) and for Hannah on Oct. 30. Hannah also will be playing one final season with her best friends and sisters in Ann Arbor in Bryn and Jess.
"Our friendships are definitely stronger now more than ever and I think that's because we are far from home, we go through a lot together with field hockey and school so it makes it easier to understand one another because you're all going through the same things," Allen said. "They are my away-from-home sisters and I think they feel the same way."
"After three years of college, our friendship is definitely stronger than ever," Bain concluded. "We have gone through everything together so we see all sides of one another. The other day, one of my friends actually told me she doesn't understand how we don't get sick of each other and I didn't really know what to say back because it's true. Not all housemates and friends can admit to that."