Teammates can form a life-long bond. Rivals can motivate you to achieve higher goals on the field of competition. Between U.S. Women’s National Team athletes Ashley Hoffman and Kelee Lepage, they have experienced both long before representing the red, white and blue. From teenagers to young adults, they share an uncommon bond of having played alongside one another and against each other, during some of their biggest moments of their careers.
The two gained an instant connection while wearing the iconic Twin Valley High School green jersey in Pennsylvania. Both knew this was the sport for them, according to Lepage, and they shared the dream of one day playing NCAA level hockey, as well as hopefully getting the chance to represent their country. While playing for Twin Valley, they also battled side-by-side through Futures and club hockey with X-Calibur.
“It was a lot of fun to be able to play with someone who had the same goals as me,” said Lepage. “These goals taught us to push each other in everything we did in those high school years. I remember in practices we rarely were put on the same team. We were always going head-to-head. It made us that much better and more competitive come game time. You could say we were a dynamic duo.”
“High school field hockey was the highlight of my high school experience,” added Hoffman. “In Pennsylvania, field hockey is at a relatively high level for that age range, so Kelee and I were both privileged to not only learn from each other, but learn and play against really good competition from around the state. Kelee and I were like the dynamic duo, both playing on club teams, and working our way through the Olympic Development Pathway. There is something really cool about being around people with similar priorities and goals and Kelee was that person for me. She pushed me at practice to be better every day.”
Both played key roles in helping the Raiders to a pair of back-to-back county championships in 2012 and 2013. It wasn’t long before collegiate play was on the horizon and programs were looking to recruit Hoffman and Lepage, and it was evident their paths would go in separate directions for Division I field hockey. Hoffman, a year ahead of Lepage, went south to play under legendary coach Karen Shelton at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Lepage had her sights on Maryland underneath fabled Terrapins coach Missy Meharg. The two programs were once heated rivals in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), but before the athletes arrived on campus, Maryland moved to the Big Ten Conference in 2014. It meant no seasonal conference showdowns between their committed programs, but regardless, Lepage and Hoffman knew a collegiate tilt was inevitable.
In pursuit of an NCAA national championship, the two eventually met on the biggest stage in college sports in 2018 on opposite sides of the field as Maryland and UNC met in Louisville, Kentucky. It remains one of the athlete’s favorite sport memories.
“Ashley’s senior year, my junior year, we were both captains for our team, and met in the 2018 national championship, thus getting to shake hands in the captain’s circle before the game,” recalled Lepage. “I will never forget that moment, on opposite sides but still rooting for each other [only a little]!”
Beyond their collegiate schedules, the two continued to push one another to bigger heights as members of Team USA. Lepage quickly climbed through the ranks of the Olympic Development Pathway while at Maryland, playing and touring for the U-21 USWNT from 2017-18 and the U.S. Women’s National Development Team in 2019. All the while, Hoffman, who joined the senior USWNT in 2017 as a junior at UNC, knew her long-time friend and motivator, was right behind her in pursuit of their joint dream.
“The two times we played one another, I was reminded of this once extreme rivalry by alumni and Coach Shelton,” said Hoffman. “I loved seeing articles and watching games of Kelee thriving in the college arena and on the Junior U.S. Women’s National Teams, knowing that we would one day play together again.”
Likewise, Lepage followed Hoffman’s career with the Tar Heels and senior USWNT. Their support for one another has never wavered, and finally came full circle earlier this year. After earning her spot on the USWNT in January, Lepage joined Hoffman on the same side of the pitch at Karen Shelton Stadium for the FIH Hockey Pro League match against The Netherlands. What was once a field that symbolized their collegiate competitive prowess was now one that marked a milestone for the two on January 26, 2020: the first international cap for Lepage and the first for Hoffman as captain of the team. Their paths, long removed from their days at Twin Valley, now reconnected on the highest level squad in the United States and felt exactly where the left off earlier this past decade.
“Although our journey after high school and through the pipeline looked different, we both remained dedicated to our dreams,” said Hoffman. “Kelee tried out and made the national team this past January and it was so incredible to see this goal of ours achieved. In Karen Shelton Stadium, Kelee earned her first international cap and I played my first game as team captain, so I hold that specific match very close to my heart despite the outcome. Kelee is one of the most driven and positive people I know and I couldn’t be prouder of her for forging her own way to the national team. I had no doubt in my mind that she could do it, and I have no doubt that she will be successful in the future.”
“I have learned a lot from Ashley in high school and in the few months we have been together since I joined the national team,” added Lepage. “Ashley is definitely a player I look up to on the team for guidance. She has already helped me grow on the international stage from our first FIH Hockey Pro League matches and in our recent training block in California. I admire her passion for aspiring to be the best player she can be and for being her true and honest self. I know that I can always count on her to hold me accountable. I am excited to be on this journey with her, knowing that she will push me to work hard and have fun, just as she did in high school!”
Whether they have lined up among the same squad, or locked stares from opposite sides before push back, Lepage and Hoffman have shared one of the rarest bonds over the past decade. A life-long bond carved from the love of the game and fueled by motivating each other each fall season to make their dream a reality.