USA Field Hockey NEWS Athlete Spotlight: N...

Athlete Spotlight: Nicole Woods

Dec. 31, 2020, 12 p.m. (ET)

Each athlete that wears the red, white and blue has a unique story to how their careers came to fruition. From the junior level to the senior squad, USA Field Hockey is putting national team athletes under the spotlight to share their journeys.


You never know how far you’ll go. As cliché as it may come off as, that statement resonates with countless athletes both young and old throughout their respective careers. Nicole Woods knows this all too well, from youth to high school, college and beyond, she recalls every step of the way to her current role on the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Woods remembers being highly motivated as a student-athlete at Beverly High School largely due to the school’s success in sports over several years. It also means hitting the ground running in being part of that culture. It’s nerve racking for any athlete found in a similar situation, but Woods took it with stride from start to finish.

 

“When I started my freshman year the field hockey team had been back-to-back conference champions so I was pretty intimidated going in,” admitted Woods. “I was lucky enough that my sister was a senior captain on the team which made winning the programs third straight title even more special. During high school we went on to win all four of my years creating the programs first ’six-peat’.”

On the pitch the Beverly, Mass. native was bonafide leader for the Panthers as she served as captain for three years on the varsity squad. In 2013 alone, her 11 goals and 21 assists played a key role in the team’s Northeastern Conference (NEC) championship. She was also a four-time NEC All-Star selection, All-Conference Player of the Year her senior season and was named Salem News Field Hockey Player of the Year in 2012.

Woods was also active as a member of NorthEast Elite Field Hockey club, which she credits her career in the sport to, as well as club founder Chelsey Feole.

“I had found NorthEast Elite because I was playing in a summer tournament in Massachusetts when some girls on my team suggested I try out for their [National Hockey] Festival team,” said Woods. “I had never been introduced to the club scene before, so when I was invited to Festival I was not only blown away at the size of the tournament but it felt like a whole other world of field hockey I had never discovered. After a couple of games Chelsey really saw potential in me and kind of took it from there in terms of encouraging me to play Futures and to keep pursuing field hockey.” 

That conversation with Feole ended up being a major step in Woods’ young career, where in 2014 she participated in Futures and was selected to the U.S. U-19 Women’s National Team just out of high school. While her field hockey life continued to blossom, she was also busy on the ice as an active ice hockey player. As she can attest, being a dual-sport athlete is a challenge in of itself, but it also led to a rather unique situation as the thought of collegiate athletics came into view.

 

“I had a really bizarre recruiting path but I enjoy telling it because I think it helps players kind of slow down and take their time with recruiting,” continued Woods. “I did want to play ice hockey in college but I was really torn from hockey and field hockey. It wasn’t until the early fall of my junior year that I began club and went to my first tournament. By that time, most high school athletes are committed to their schools already, if I were in high school now I would have a tough time getting any spots at any school.”

Still undecided, Woods visited several schools around her home state. Then Louisville came into consideration, thanks to her mother who convinced Woods to visit on Junior Day. She was hesitant as she had always pictured being within three hours or so from home for college.

“After visiting Louisville over a weekend in the spring of my junior year I was blown away at the campus, the team and how insane the athletic facilities were in Louisville,” continued Woods. “The state of Kentucky has no professional sports so the whole state devotes all their energy and enthusiasm into the college athletic programs and it really impressed me.”

The rest is history as Woods played for the Cardinals from 2014 to 2017. In addition to her mother pushing her outside of her comfort zone, Woods again credited Feole for believing in her and helping shape her decision to stick to field hockey.

 

“If it wasn’t for NorthEast Elite I never would have found Louisville nor would I have been prepared to play collegiately after just a year and a half of playing club,” noted Woods.

 

Still unsure how far the sport would take her, Woods went on to be a four-year starter at Louisville while also carving her way through the Olympic Development Pathway. She recalled how intimidated she felt at her first Junior National Camp and how she kept comparing her own experience to other potential selections.

“I was really nervous and so intimidated especially since my roommate was 14 years old and had been on the U-19 team already,” continued Woods. “After playing one year on the U-19 team I went on to play for the U-21 squad and at the Junior Pan American Championship, then on to the Junior World Cup. My journey in the [Olympic] Development Pathway was really exciting. I think I was able to follow up the pathway because I had been so unexposed to this level of field hockey and rather than it showing in the way that I played, I think it showed in the way that I was willing to learn."

“I had never had more than a year and a half of true field hockey training so when I was given the opportunity to be coached by a lineup of Division I coaches and former USWNT athletes all before I even went to college was incredible to me. I really think I was selected for tours and eventually the U-21 team not because I was good at field hockey but because I was so eager to listen and learn from anyone who would help me out.” 

In her final year at Louisville, her hard work paid off as Woods was named to the U.S. Women’s National Team in 2017. In May of the same year, she earned her first international cap in a series against Ireland. 

Still thinking back it was surreal to think how just a handful of conversations impacted her young life. Woods went on to say that field hockey alone has given her so much in the past decade, from life lessons to opportunities and experiences that would otherwise be absent.

 

“At 24, I have traveled the world playing and have felt the massive highs of travel, winning and learning with my teammates but we have also felt some serious lows through injury, qualifiers and especially the loss of Larry Amar,” noted Woods. “I think I am most grateful for the way Janneke Schopman liked to measure our playing performance by asking us if we think we are playing to our potential. No matter what the answer was for one single game, I am sitting here at 24 years old coming off an injury and unable to play since April of 2019 absolutely feeling like my potential has yet to be reached.”

One of her biggest takeaways from her days at Louisville was being active in the local community where she and her teammates accumulated more than 200 hours during their time on campus. It was more than enough to win the “national championship” for most hours per person by any NCAA sports team. That achievement has continued to inspire Woods to stay active in community outreach whenever possible. One of the biggest ways she does this is through her free field hockey clinics in her hometown.

“I have been collecting equipment in order to one day run a free clinic in Massachusetts where players can try field hockey at no cost to them and at the end of the day they can take home a stick and ball to keep on playing,” said Woods. “I originally intended to run the clinics this summer in 2020 but with the pandemic it will have to wait.”

Woods also joined the leadership team for the USA Field Hockey Kentucky State Chapter as a webmaster to help the continued growth of the game in and around the Louisville area.

“Kentucky has such a competitive high school season every year and the potential to grow it is very promising,” continued Woods. “The majority of the schools involved are within the city of Louisville so the goal is to gain more interest outside of those areas and help with more access to equipment, coaches and create more programs.”

 

Although the pandemic put a hold on both her clinics and training with the USWNT, Woods has found a silver lining in the extra time off to focus on recovery and her own fitness levels. 

“I was lucky enough to find a park with Julia Young and our strength and conditioning coach, Kyle McMinn, where we could use a turf field to condition,” said Woods. “The best part was Kyle’s creativity by using the jungle gym as a lifting space while the gyms were closed. He would have us doing pull ups on the monkey bars, he hung a TRX strap from the highest part of the playground and so much more. Working with him starting back in July through the winter was really helpful to get our fitness up and taught us to be creative and work with what we had.”

 

It hasn’t been easy to be away from using a stick as much during the pandemic, but Woods has kept busy in that aspect by focusing on the small skills elements in her basement. She is excited to resume training when the all-clear is given, especially with head coach Anthony Farry coming into the fold. As he described in the team’s first video conference earlier this year, for the USWNT to get back in rhythm should be just like riding a bicycle.

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Nicole Woods