In last Saturday’s field hockey game against Trinity, captain Katie Riley ’14 made history. She scored four times, leading the team to a 6-1 victory and tying the record of most goals scored in a NESCAC tournament game.
Riley started playing field hockey as a high school junior. She had just transferred schools and needed to pick a fall sport, but she was also playing lacrosse and ice hockey. She was wary of putting in too much off-season work for her third athletic commitment.
Though she had expected to start her Bowdoin athletic career as an ice hockey player, encouragement from her high school coach—a Bowdoin field hockey and ice hockey alumnus—convinced her to try out for field hockey her first year fall. She did not expect to make one of the country’s strongest programs as a walk-on, and when she did, she received very little playing time.
That first year convinced her to dedicate her time to the sport permanently, and after a summer of working at a number of field hockey camps, she started as many games as she had her first year—zero.
Still, she saw time in all but two, opportunistically recording 12 points. She went back to the camps that next summer, and while she was expected to be better her junior year, she exploded into NESCAC play and has been a force ever since. She led Bowdoin in both goals (16) and assists (15) and recorded four game-winners last year. She finished second in the NESCAC with 47 points.
“If you can explain it, then you begin to understand how to do it yourself,” Riley said. “Repetition is the biggest thing.”
Riley has 14 goals and 15 assists and another four game-winners through 15 games this season. She leads the NESCAC in assists and her 14 goals are good for third in the conferene. She is second in points with 43.
This is a substantial improvement from someone who was, in her own words, “just happy to have made the team,” but Head Coach Nicky Pearson has had tremendous success developing players, particularly those with ice hockey backgrounds and a positive attitude.
“She had a lot of raw talent,” Pearson said. “She came in with a willingness to learn off of the more experienced players.”
“You see a lot of freshmen and sophomores who don’t get a lot of playing time, but then become impact players their junior and senior years,” said captain Liv King ’14. “I think the younger players look at Katie and see that you have to sacrifice, come to practice and play hard to get where she is.”
As Riley’s skills improved, her attitude did as well. Riley has embraced her role as team captain to become a vocal presence on and off the field.
“She holds herself to a high level of accountability,” Pearson said. “And she has the courage to hold her teammates to that same level. Some people shy away from that potential conflict.”
“She’s a motivator,” King added. “She knows how to engage. She’s also thoughtful. Girls on the team seek her out.”
Riley believes that a lot of the skills she learned on the ice were transferred to the turf, from her athleticism and speed to her technical stick skills.
“Her hands are so fast,” King said. “She makes moves to get space that others girls won’t even be able to see coming.”
Nonetheless, Riley is honest about where she has come from as a first year.
“My stick skills weren’t tight enough,” she said. “I had to work on not letting balls run away from me.”
Now, she is a particularly gifted passer and has become, in Pearson’s words, a “complete player,” combining athleticism and speed with “excellent skills and ball handling.”
“I think she’s kind of surprised to see how far she’s come,” King said. “But that’s not because she doesn’t deserve it. She’s a classic example of getting out what you put in.”
Riley will graduate with a major in government and a minor in economics. She has concentrated in international relations.
The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.