Tara Vittese says her oldest sister, Michelle, can be “a little bit intense.”
She laughs, pointing out she dearly loves her big sister and is excited to play with her on the U.S. women’s field hockey team that’s competing at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London that began July 21 and continues through Aug. 5.
“She’s very passionate about what she does, which I love,” says Tara.
Michelle, 29, has more than 200 games with the national team under her belt, played in two Olympic Games and was on the 2014 World Cup team that just missed a bronze medal. She’s also helped Team USA win two Pan American Games titles.
The 5-foot-3 midfielder is known as one of the fittest, fiercest and most vocal players on the team — and one of its best. In 2012, she was the U.S. Field Hockey Player of the Year.
Michelle once described herself as a hard-headed, type-A person who is “a loud personality in this little body of mine.”
That can be a bit intimidating, even for a sister. Tara jokes it’s both a “blessing and a curse” to play with her.
“It’s good because she knows how to push me,” said Tara, 22, who’s in her first year on the national team. “She’s not going to make it easy on me. … But she definitely knows how to help. She just sees so much. So, it’s nice having her (on the team) because I can always go to her if I do need help or I do have questions.”
Michelle doesn’t deny her passion for the game or the fact she may push Tara, a 5-foot-10 midfielder who was a three-time collegiate Player of the Year at Virginia, more than she wants to be pushed. Michelle jumped into field hockey in New Jersey and fell in love with it. Younger sisters Carissa and Tara followed her not only into the game but to the University of Virginia and the national team (Carissa, 26, is not on the roster for this World Cup, however).
Michelle said having the chance to play with Tara on the national team and to go to a World Cup together is an absolute joy.
“This is honestly one of the most meaningful things I’ve been a part of in my entire life,” Michelle said.
The eldest Vittese sister also says she feels proud and protective of Tara as a big sister, even if that hasn’t always been evident.
“I have to say I probably was more of a competitive (sister), a telling-them-what-to-do type of big sister than I was a nurturing, loving, understanding, patient older sister,” Michelle said. “It could have been a little hard for them, I don’t know. I haven’t really ever asked them.”
Making The Leap
Tara trained with Team USA earlier this year and was officially added to the roster in May, taking part in a series against Argentina.
Looking back, she acknowledges the jump to a higher level of play was tough at first. Tara was playing with and against older, more experienced athletes, and the speed of the game and quality of competition forced her to adapt. Michelle could see her struggle yet had no doubt she would elevate her game.
“Obviously her collegiate accolades are insane,” Michelle said. “She is incredible. Watching her play, she always kind of inspired me and I was like, ‘Wow, I wish I could have been that dominant in college.’”
Recently, Tara has come into her own as a national team player.
“I’ve seen her the past couple of weeks come into a different mindset,” said Michelle, just days before the team left for London. “She has a different level of poise and composure on the ball, which is really important. Trust me, any time you jump from a level that’s a lot slower to something that’s lightning speed — not only pace-wise, but mentally you have to be able to think faster than you’ve ever had to think — I think that was a challenge at first. It is for all the players.
“But I’ve seen her develop into quite an asset for us the past couple of weeks.”
Michelle said she’s advised her sister to play to her strengths, stay calm and not try to do too much.
“I try to be a sense of calmness,” says Michelle, laughing.
Michelle may not ever be accused of being the quiet type, but Tara believes that’s one of the reasons her older sister is so valuable, especially playing in the center of the midfield alignment. Her constant vocal communication with her teammates is an asset. Plus, Tara said Michelle is strong, has great stick skills and is super communicative. Her work ethic and fitness help set an example.
“You’re never going to get better by not doing the work, and I think that’s something she strives for every single day,” Tara said. “At practice, she’s always making sure she’s working hard, by tackling, putting pressure on, going with the play. … Her work rate definitely influences the team.”
And, her younger sisters.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.