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.
When Anna Dessoye saw her next door neighbor playing field hockey nearly two decades ago, she never imagined it would turn into a lifelong passion. From that fateful encounter she transformed into a lucrative young career so far now as a familiar face on the U.S. Women’s National Team.
While Dessoye’s chance meeting started her along the path of field hockey, she also gives an immense amount of credit to her high school head coach, Elvetta Gemski.
“I was inspired by Gemski, who retired with nearly 650 wins with the program,” said Dessoye. “She was a humble, no nonsense leader who brought the best out of each individual player. She encouraged me to keep learning and introduced me to Futures and USA Field Hockey. I admired her selflessness and work ethic throughout the years we spent together. She was someone who really molded me early in my field hockey career.”
Dessoye’s competitive nature was center stage under Gemski’s guidance at Crestwood High School as a four-year starter on the varsity squad. She served as captain her senior year and gained First Team All-State and All-American honors while helping the team to the District II state tournament each season and back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
She drew the attention of many at the collegiate level, and while several institutions stood out to her, Dessoye elected to attend and compete at the University of Maryland. In the end it was a perfect fit for the Mountaintop, Pa. native: close to home, diverse culture, academics and an atmosphere that matched well.
“My experience at Maryland was incredible,” continued Dessoye. “Missy Meharg is a fearless leader and demands excellence. I learned so much from her and her staff throughout my four years. I made a lot of amazing friends and made some of my favorite field hockey memories.”
Dessoye went on to play 94 total games in the Terrapins’ midfield from 2012-15 and was a starter in 89 of them. What made her collegiate career most unique was playing two years in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and two in the Big Ten Conference when Maryland made the transition to the latter. Because of this, Dessoye is one of just a handful of student-athletes to claim both ACC and Big Ten Championships across her career. She also helped Maryland to two Final-Four appearances and picked up First-Team All American and First-team Mid-Atlantic honors.
Across her four years at Crestwood and Maryland, Dessoye also excelled in the U.S. Women’s Olympic Development Pathway. She first took part in Futures at the age of 14 and soon found herself on the U.S. U-17 and U-19 Women’s National Teams, another rare experience as she toured internationally with USA while balancing high school studies. She enjoyed every moment of her early days in the Olympic Development Pathway and credits everyone she learned from along the way to where she is today.
“I felt like a sponge absorbing as much information and criticism as I could,” noted Dessoye. “It made me better. I worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices, which seemed huge at the time when I was younger but looking back I’m glad I made the decisions I did. Whether it was going late to prom because I was at a Regional Futures Tournament or missing summer trips to the beach with friends because of Junior National Camp. There was always something but I always put field hockey first and that ultimately opened a lot of doors for me and put me in the best spot possible to go to my dream school and afterward, play for the USWNT.”
In college, she moved up to the U-21 USWNT and shortly after graduating from Maryland, Dessoye made her dream a reality when she named to the senior squad in 2016. A few months later, she recorded her first international cap in a friendly match against New Zealand. Since then she has been a reliable individual for the red, white and blue.
Regardless of personal or team achievements over the years, the game has provided Dessoye with many life lessons and experiences she admits would be absent without the time and commitment on the field.
“The sport has taught me to be resilient,” said Dessoye. “To always persevere through the ups and downs of a game, season, career. It’s taught me to be tough, mentally and physically, and never give up!”
Dessoye has appeared in 59 international matches so far for the USWNT, but while the team waits to return to the pitch as a full unit once more, she has volunteered her time to providing lessons for eager young athletes near her hometown. She is also currently a volunteer assistant coach for Wyoming Area High School this fall.
She has had an exciting career to this date, from the early middle school days playing with the Valley Stix club team to her time as an elite-athlete. It’s funny to look back on how one’s journey starts. For Dessoye, picking up a stick from watching an acquaintance is a reminder that the next generation’s elite aspirations could be in a neighborhood near you.