Content Courtesy of Sian Wilkerson, The Virginian-Pilot
Images Courtesy of Duke Athletics
Haley Schleicher was a megastar at First Colonial. But she has discovered the real joy of field hockey as a member of the US National team.
Led by Cox, First Colonial and Tabb, field hockey teams from Hampton Roads dominate the Virginia High School League record book, from the Falcons' 21 state championships to the Tigers' 159-1 scoring margin in 2011.
But few players have left a more indelible mark than Haley Schleicher.
As a First Colonial junior in 2014, Schleicher became the first high school player in the country to amass more than 50 goals and 50 assists in a season. Then, as a senior, she did it again, leading the Patriots to a Class 6 state title. Schleicher tallied both her 200th career goal and her 200th career assist in the victory to become the first high school player nationally to achieve both milestones.
In Schleicher’s four years at First Colonial, the team appeared in the state championship game every season, with two victories bookending her Patriots career. The two-time All-Tidewater Field Hockey Player of the Year was named the Senior National Field Hockey Player of the Year in 2016 to cap her historic run.
Even as her name was being etched in the record books, though, Schleicher was struggling with feeling disconnected to her sport.
“My heart wasn’t in it in high school,” Schleicher said in a recent interview. “I think talent was there, and talent got me so far, but I started playing because my mom coached and I had friends, but I don’t think I made it my own and was passionate about it for my own reasons until about a year and a half ago.
“I think I felt pretty detached from those records and those things that are paper. … (At the time) it was never on my mind.”
Schleicher originally became interested in field hockey thanks in large part to her mom, longtime coach Beanie Schleicher, who was coaching at Maury High at the time. Schleicher, who mostly played soccer as a kid, spent her summers hanging around at her mom’s practices with the Commodores and sat on the sidelines during games.
Beanie, who coached Schleicher through middle school and then at First Colonial, was on the sideline for many of her daughter’s biggest moments, including her record-breaking performance in the 2015 state title game.
“Her senior year, when we won states, that’s probably the most excited I’ve ever seen her,” Beanie said. “Everything about that year was quite special. She broke a lot of milestones that year.”
But beyond the accolades and the wins, the most important thing for Schleicher was the sense of community she found in field hockey.
“It was powerful to play with girls older than me who were really good but cared for me and nurtured me and wanted to be friends and play with me,” she said. “Being young and coming in freshman year, I just remember it being very welcoming. The community of the girls on the team made it fun and made it to where we were just working hard and playing together and enjoying time off the field, and I think that was really cool to have in high school.”
But as she made the jump to Duke, Schleicher felt hampered by a fear of failing to live up to expectations.
“I think I just felt pressure or fear to mess up,” she said. “I just got kind of apathetic about it and I was just going through the motions with field hockey.”
It wasn’t until more recently that Schleicher really rediscovered her passion for the sport at which she so excels. After she “underperformed” in her first few seasons at Duke, recording no points as a freshman and just two goals as a sophomore, Schleicher spoke to her coaches about how she was feeling.
Blue Devils head coach Pam Bustin remembers those conversations well.
“With Haley, it was really just a matter of constant communication with her ... constantly just trying to pull it out of her and constantly trying to get her to realize that there’s a disconnect happening between her and the game, which affects the team and affects her ability to enjoy it,” Bustin said.
“Obviously Haley is extremely talented as a field hockey player and as an athlete. There were times when I think just her emotional connection to the sport and her ability to lock in mentally as far as reading the game and the tactics of it weren’t always connected with her physical ability," she added. "For a coach, sometimes it’s frustrating, but also you understand that you’re coaching kids between the ages of 18-22 and a lot of things go on during these college years and sometimes you just have to give the patience.”
With the coaching staff’s help and her growing connection to her Christian faith, Schleicher was able to find her way back to field hockey.
“I think the pivotal thing for my game was that I knew I was valued and loved and cared for regardless of accolades or what I could accomplish,” she said. “That just freed me up to play and have fun without being scared of messing up or doing this or that. … It was the first time I really enjoyed playing hockey in a long time.”
“(In her senior year) she was a spark," said Bustin, who saw Schleicher take on a more proactive role with the team both on and off the field. “Now she created the attack, now she was definitely involved in the defense. Now we could really rely on her in some critical areas of the game where we couldn’t rely on her before.”
Around the same time, Schleicher also rediscovered her interest in representing Team USA. As a teenager, she spent time in the USA Field Hockey futures program, playing on the U17 and U19 junior national teams before stepping away from international play when she went to college.
Schleicher decided to try out again, this time for the women’s national team, and was named to the team in January. Now a full-time field hockey player, she lives and trains in Philadelphia with some of her teammates as they prepare to restart their season September 22 with eyes on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Kealsie Robles, a goalkeeper who played at York High and Old Dominion, also is a US national team member.
Schleicher is excited to see where this new chapter with her new team goes.
“It’s been really great,” she said. “Right now, it’s the first time I’ll be in residency with the team and full time playing with them. This time, with COVID, we’ve had weekly Zoom calls and I feel like I’ve been able to get to know the girls the past couple of months and dig into those relationships. That’s been important to me since high school, and I think that’s what drives me and helps me to stay motivated and playing.”