Aurelia Meijer Is a Breath of Fresh Air for Penn State Field Hockey

August 24, 2017 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Photo via Cardoni

When Aurelia Meijer came to Penn State in the fall of 2015, it wasn’t just her first time on a college campus. It was her first time ever stepping foot in the United States.

Meijer, a standout midfielder/forward on the Nittany Lion field hockey team, holds the distinction of being the first foreign-born player in program history. Born in South Africa, Meijer has lived in the Netherlands since she was 4.

It was not long after that Meijer started playing field hockey. She picked up the game after watching her father play in the country’s highest men’s league and her grandfather play for the national team in the Netherlands. The Meijers even have a turf next to their house in the Dutch municipality of Hattem, where you can watch the family play and work on their skills.

Basically, field hockey—in addition to being part of the cultural identity of the Netherlands—has been a constant presence in Meijer’s life from the time she was a child.

So it only makes sense that Meijer is really good at the sport. When she was 15, Meijer played against women in their 30s as a member of the Overgangsklasse, the second tier of field hockey in her country. While she never got the opportunity to play for the national squad, she was a member of her regional team as well.

But despite the success she had at such an early age, Meijer’s interests went beyond playing the sport. She says combining field hockey with coming to America and studying seemed “so logical and awesome.”

“I put so much time in field hockey and this was a way to get something out of it,” Meijer says. “I knew I was never gonna go for the national team—I was not good enough at the time. This was a way to get something out of field hockey and I love it.”

Photo via Cardoni

Meijer says she had always wanted to visit the United States, as pieces of American culture—movies and songs especially—were part of her childhood. Later, a friend who is a member of the field hockey team at Northwestern encouraged Meijer to consider heading stateside to play.

But while her friend’s transition to America was relatively easy, Meijer struggled. She was homesick and had to work to improve her English. She wouldn’t eat when she’d go to dining halls because she didn’t know what to eat. Meijer wasn’t only pushed out of her comfort zone culturally; she also had to learn a new approach to playing field hockey. According to Meijer, there’s more of an emphasis on developing skills in the Netherlands, while teams in the United States look to be as physically and mentally strong as possible. While she came to Penn State with an advanced set of skills and a rare feel for the game for a young player, she struggled in the weight room and had never gone through as much conditioning as she did as a freshman.

Still, Meijer’s talent helped her secure first-team All-Big Ten honors as a freshman. She duplicated that last season as a sophomore, and her higher comfort level was reflected in her selection as an All-American.

Meijer’s freshman season also featured a moment when she briefly became an internet sensation: In her best game in blue and white, she recorded her first career hat trick in a 3-2 win against Iowa—scoring her final goal as time expired.

The game—which doubled as the first time her father saw her suit up for Penn State—was broadcast on Big Ten Network. Right after it ended, a fired-up Meijer gave an interview which led to her being described as “a breath of fresh air.”

Halfway through her Penn State career, Meijer has opened an international pipeline for the Nittany Lions: She was joined last season by defender Bes Bovelander, who is also from the Netherlands. But Meijer says she doesn’t view being the team’s first international player as a point of pride. If anything, she laughs at the fact that having a player from somewhere other than the United States was a new experience for everyone. “It was funny because it was new for me,” she says, “but it was also new for the team.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

Entry filed under: Athletics, From the Magazine, The Penn Stater Magazine. Tags: , .

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