Maybe her patience on the pitch is from the accumulation of moments over the last 25 years of waiting behind horse and buggies.
Perhaps the impressive accuracy she taps into for game-changing goals was developed from her earlier days of zoning in on sky-high clay bird targets with a shotgun.
Suppose that waking up early on a farm, bailing hay, working the fields, feeding cows, horses and rabbits play into her fifth-gear work ethic on USA’s forward line.
Country to the core, Jill Witmer is proud of where she came from and where she’s going.
The U.S. Women’s National Team attacker joined the squad in 2013, right when the centralized training program made the tremendous move from the sandy beaches of Chula Vista, Calif. to the weather-battered barns and cornfields of Lancaster, Pa. It wasn’t really a transition for Witmer, but rather like a sign that she was doing the right thing, at the right time. It’s not everyday your goal or purpose or passion travels thousands of miles to the front door of your hometown. In Witmer’s case, the timing or the location couldn’t be more perfect.
“The news was unbelievable, almost too good to be true,” said Witmer. “I grew up in Lancaster. My parents are here. My family is here. My friends are here. And now I get the chance to train here.”
But Witmer was on a team long before she joined the red, white and blue. She grew up with three brothers, Jon, Joe and Jeremy, and one sister, Jocelyn. Sharing a last name and home address with all of those on this roster of five, Witmer attributes her competitive nature to the frequent backyard games with her siblings.
“We’re all close in age, with only two years a part between all of us, so there was always something going on and something we were getting into,” said Witmer. “We’d play whiffle ball, capture the flag and football. We would even make up games. We loved and still love challenging each other.”
Somewhere between riding on four wheelers, canoeing and dirt bikes, playing in the creeks and tending to the farm, Witmer found field hockey.
Witmer’s interest in the sport started simple through the encouragement of her parents. What blossomed out of that supportive push were an onslaught of personal, team and international accomplishments. She competed with the U-19 and U-21 U.S. Teams, travelling throughout the world. A University of Maryland graduate, Witmer’s fearless style of play makes her a formidable opponent on the forward line for Team USA. She was a member of the gold medal squad at the 2014 Champions Challenge and part of the 2014 Rabobank Hockey World Cup team that burst onto the international stage with a fourth place finish. Besides her superior stick work in the attack circle, an undeniable trait Witmer’s opponents try to contain, another strength her teammates try to utilize is her speed.
Running through the woods, chasing her sister and brothers gave Witmer an advantage while playing backyard games. While the adolescent Witmer thought she was simply just out running or trying to keep up with them, she was really molding herself into one of the quickest athletes in town. Her club coach recognized her wheels and her sharp shooting. The forward line has been permanent property for Witmer ever since.
“I don’t have a signature move or celebration after scoring,” said Witmer. “If anything, I look for the person who gave the assist. I love hugging them. I love hugging anyone. I get such a big thrill from scoring, but I don’t like all of the attention. The way I see it is we all got the ball up there. I was just the final touch.”
With a more than ideal pairing in Witmer’s eyes, her hometown and hockey hold a special time in her past and future.
“I remember coming back from college and immediately getting this indescribable feeling,” said Witmer. “Seeing the cornfields and the farms and being on the back roads just fills a person up. There is nothing like Lancaster.”
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