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.
Sports are a gateway for anyone to explore, learn, adapt and grow throughout their lives. Kayla Blas is no exception to this as they have played a huge role in her life so far, now currently a member of the U.S. U-21 Women’s National Team.
Growing up in Pendleton, N.Y., Blas and her sibling were always encouraged to try a new sport, join a new team or both. In contrast, Blas eagerly played any sport she could and initially focused on competitive soccer, ice hockey and softball. However, when the time came to choose a sport for her middle school’s fall season, her mother encouraged her to try something new. Despite some initial pushback, Blas opted to pick up a field hockey stick and she never looked back.
“Once I tried field hockey, I immediately fell in love with the game because it was a mix between soccer and ice hockey, bringing together the best aspects from each sport,” said Blas. “Throughout high school I competed in varsity field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse; however, when it came time to choose which sport to play in college, the tight knit community and my love of playing the game for my teammates made field hockey the clear winner.”
Blas made a major impact for Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart all four years as a varsity athlete in field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse and was captain of all three squads in 2016 and 2017, her junior and senior seasons. Across her entire high school field hockey career in the Western New York (WNY) region, she recorded 47 goals and 125 assists, was named team MVP all four years, All-WNY First Team (x2), All-WNY Second Team, All-WNY Scholar Athlete (x2), NFHCA Second Team All-American and All Region WNY Player of the Year (2017) and Amherst Bee’s Female Athlete of the Year (2018).
“While we were not in a league, we were able to compete against the local public schools and in a tournament each year,” added Blas. “I was thankful for my teammates and coaches at Sacred Heart for pushing me to become the best teammate and person that I could be, while being able to help grow the game in Western New York.”
Around the time she started playing the sport, Blas quicky joined the WNY Whalers. At that time, the club was only a group of college level athletes that would get together and play and train over the summer. As the club slowly began to grow, club director Dalton Beaver took Blas under her wing and played a significant role in her overall development as an athlete to this day.
As she continued to advance her knowledge and play style, Blas moved on to connect and play with Oranje GottaLoveIt after being introduced through a teammate following the 2015 AAU Junior Olympic Games.
“I competed with Oranje throughout the rest of my high school career, making the memorable 6-hour drive over the weekends to Delaware/Maryland with my mom to compete and play in games,” continued Blas. “Playing for Coach KK helped me continue to develop my game and shaped me to be the player that I am today. I continued to train with the WNY Whalers as well to help grow the game in Western New York, and help younger female athletes pick up the game.”
As college approached Blas fell in love with Northwestern the minute she toured the campus. To her, it’s always felt like a home away from home thanks in large part to the team culture established by head coach Tracey Fuchs, the tight knit community of the athletic department and the institution's challenging academic standards.
“The athletics department is a tight knit community, and everyone within it is there to help us not only become better athletes, but better people and leaders within our community,” said Blas. “Our team culture is something special, and I love laughing in the locker room or just having fun on the field everyday with my teammates. It is an amazing and humbling experience studying at a top 10 university, while also competing in the Big Ten Conference. Being a student-athlete at Northwestern is truly a world-class experience.”
In her two years as a Wildcat, Blas has been a starter for every possible game and ranked second on the team in assists her sophomore season. Off the field, she has recently declared her major of mechanical engineer through the Segal Design Certificate, a program administered by the Segal Design Institute. She also as aspirations to move on into a career in the manufacturing field or even the U.S. Department of Defense.
While academics and school sponsored sports have occupied most of her time over the past few years, Blas has also been active in the U.S. Women’s Olympic Development Pathway where she got her first taste of the program at the age of 14 in the National Futures Championship. Back then, she admitted she felt way out of her element, but over time her confidence and skillset continued to rise.
Like countless other athletes, sports has its fair share of disappointment to counterbalance success but Blas has taken those moments to ground herself, improve and keep her head high for the next opportunity.
“I remember being selected for the U-17 Junior National Camp and while I did not make the U-17 USWNT, I knew that the next year the team would be within reach,” commented Blas. “I know that this is cliché but not making the cut pushed me to work 10 times harder to have the same opportunity the next year, and I was ecstatic the next year when I was on the car ride home from Spooky Nook Sports and found out that I was selected for the U-19 USWNT.”
The following year, her hard work paid off as she dawned the USA jersey for the U-19 USWNT on their tour to Ireland. She also went on tour to Germany in 2019 and has been extremely grateful for the learning experience and opportunity to develop further. This past January, she was named to the U-21 USWNT and joined her teammates Peyton Halsey and Alia Marshall on the next tier of the Olympic Development Pathway.
Now a junior at Northwestern, and while international competition and collegiate play have been on hold due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Blas was a leader for the Northwestern Athletics COVID Relief Fund, which helped raise money for children living in Chicago. Blas added that these fund went toward school supplies and daily essential supplies for the remainder of 2020.
As for training, it’s been bittersweet.
“Summer training this year definitely looked and felt a lot different than in years past,” admitted Blas. “Originally I was nervous, yet excited, for the packed summer coming up with the Young Women’s National Championship and Junior High Performance, and I was really bummed when everything came to a quick halt. While I was upset that I was not able to be on campus to train this spring/summer, the time away from campus gave me the opportunity to train at home and spend quality time with my family. It was fun being able to hit around in my barn with my dogs, [who are actually great defenders], and spend the nights doing bonfires and family movie nights.”
Her Wildcat teammates meanwhile have created small accountability groups as the team continues to safely stay focused in conditioning and training while reaching team goals. These groups also double as outlets for each individual athlete and help in staying connected while learning from home.
“It was a great way for us to get to know each other outside of field hockey and just be there for each other and catch up even if we were halfway around the word,” continued Blas. “Our trainer gave us guidance with our workouts and runs while our coaches provided fun team challenges over Zoom to help us take our mind off of the situation.”
As her young career continues to grow, Blas, above all, thanks her family, teammates and coaching staff, both past and present, whose support and dedication have pushed her to be the best possible athlete as her dreams to represent the United States continue to unfold.