Content Courtesy of the Reading Eagle/Brian Rippey
The 2017 NCAA field hockey championship game was a special moment for Karlie Heistand and Kelee Lepage.
Heistand, a former Hamburg standout, wrapped up her college career with a second national championship as Connecticut completed a perfect season.
Lepage, a former standout at Twin Valley, was playing in the first of her two national championship games for Maryland.
Less than three years later, the two now share one dream: Helping the U.S. Women's National Team return to the Olympic Games. Heistand and Lepage are two of the newest members who were added to the team after national tryouts in January.
"It's definitely more fun to be playing with each other than against each other," Lepage said.
Heistand and Lepage earned their spots on the team after long commitments with USA Field Hockey since their early years in high school. They are part of a national team that includes former Berks County stars Ali Campbell of Boyertown and Ashley Hoffman of Twin Valley, Lepage's former high school teammate.
They are part of a young, rebuilding U.S. team that is looking to improve every day with a long-term goal of qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
"That's all we think about, that's all we talk about," Heistand said of the Olympic dream. "That's our goal and that's what we want to accomplish. It's in the the back of our minds in every practice, everything we do, every run we do we're training hard to get back to the top where we were."
Team USA fell short of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which have been postponed until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has forced Team USA to cease group workouts, but it hasn't prevented the players from continuing to work toward their one goal.
Heistand, an assistant coach at Villanova, said she drills regularly in her basement in Springfield. Lepage works on her stick skills in her backyard at Honey Brook and goes for runs to stay in shape.
The team also gets together twice a week on Zoom meetings.
"We have a good workout plan so they're keeping us busy," Lepage said. "We'll be back together soon and pick up where we left off."
The team had just finished two weeks of a planned three-week training session in Chula Vista, Calif., when the players were sent home in the middle of the March. Prior to that, the team played five games in the FIH Hockey Pro League when Heistand and Lepage each played in their first four international games.
Heistand is the younger sister of former national team player Rayell Heistand. Although she heard about how different the international game is, it was a shock to find out for herself.
"I felt like a college freshman again," Heistand said. "It's just such a big jump. The speed, the athleticism, everything is 10 notches higher. I feel like I have to think 10 steps ahead just to be caught up in the game because it moves so fast."
Lepage, who earned the 2015 Berks County Player of the Year Award after leading Twin Valley to a PIAA Class 2A championship, also said she had to adapt.
"The speed of the game is a lot faster than in college," Lepage said. "The biggest difference is the intensity and high speed. Everyone's so quick because we train for it every day. Each game it gets a little better."
Heistand said she could feel the team improving with the young players and veterans coming together before they were sent home. She said she hopes they can continue to bond and regain that momentum when they get back together.
"We were improving so much and starting to get connected," Heistand said. "Now we're just all cut off and definitely lost something since it's been almost two months now that we've been away from each other. It was exciting that we were improving so fast and connecting so fast."
Team activities aren't likely to resume until the middle of June at the earliest. Until then, each player separately will work toward the dream of getting Team USA back to the Olympic Games one day, one step and one drill at a time.
"I feel like every Team USA athlete's dream is to go to the Olympics," Lepage said. "It's one of my goals. It's a long way until Paris 2024 for the team, but all we can do is what we have right in front of us."