The global spectacle that is the Summer Olympics took the world by storm this past weekend in Rio, where an extravagant opening ceremony and the first few rounds of elite competition have already made a devoted sports fan of even the most disinterested viewer. And while most Westchesterites are supporting Team USA by simply tuning in, Mohegan Lake native and Lakeland High School alum Melissa Gonzalez actually snagged a spot on the women’s field-hockey team, which notched its second victory against Australia (the first came opposite Argentina) earlier today (they next face Japan on Wednesday at 4 pm). A couple of days prior to her squad’s first round of competition, the now two-time Olympian and University of Connecticut player spoke with us from Rio about her journey, why field hockey is so special to her, and what she hopes to gain—win or lose—from this life-changing experience.
What distinguishes field hockey from from other Olympic competitions?
It is really fast-paced. We crush a lot of miles, and there is a lot of high intensity action. Not only are we sprinting, but we have to be able to repeat those sprints so we’re able to change angles and [maintain] a lot of high pace.
Did growing up and training in Westchester make your path Rio unique?
I absolutely think my journey would have been different had I lived somewhere else. I think in Westchester I was really fortunate to be brought up in a town where field hockey was really relevant. Coming from Lakeland specifically, I was really fortunate to have great coaches and my coach Sharon Sarsen. And I was always around the sport with my sisters, and she gave me a lot of opportunity to play, especially when I was younger.
Were the Olympics always your goal?
Like any sport, when you start playing you just fall in love with the sport. So for me, it was just being competitive and showing up and having opportunity after opportunity, which is really great. I think the more opportunity people have to play the sport, the [more] it is going to progress.
Aside from a medal, what do you most want to takeaway from Rio?
I just want no regrets. So, you know, there are so many facets to getting here and being prepared; there’s nutrition, there’s the homework of your opponent, there’s making sure that you and your teammates understand what the game plan is. So for me, I just want to make sure that I hit everything I could hit, and hit it hard.