SHRUB OAK, N.Y. -- Lakeland field hockey coach Sharon Sarsen made a promise to Melissa Gonzalez, her former stand-out player, in 2009, when Gonzalez asked a question.
“When Melissa first made the National team, she asked me, ‘If I make the Olympic field hockey team, will you go,’ ” Sarsen recalled. “I said, ‘Of course,’ not knowing if it would really happen because the USA had to qualify, which is not automatic in the sport of field hockey.”
Along with qualifying, Gonzalez also had to make the team. Sarsen had faith in Gonzalez but knew it was going to be difficult. Now, Sarsen will be making good on her promise.
Sarsen departed Friday for London and the 2012 Summer Olympics because Gonzalez is a member of the United States Women’s Olympic field hockey team. Gonzalez and her teammates open play against Germany at 4:15 p.m. EST Sunday.
Gonzalez is the first Section 1 field hockey player to make the U.S. Olympic women’s field hockey team. Sarsen was with Gonzalez when she received the good news.
Sarsen accompanied Gonzalez’s older sisters -- Jen and Sara, both former Lakeland stand-outs -- to watch the Women’s National Championships. It also was the day the players would learn if they made the team.
“When Melissa came out of her meeting, she was crying and we didn't know why, until she gave us the thumbs up,” Sarsen said. “We all ran over to Melissa, crying and we had all hugged.”
Even though Gonzalez learned she was on the team in June, Sarsen said she booked her hotel in January and her flight in March. The trip to London forced Sarsen to rearrange her field hockey camp schedule to after the Olympics and also find a former player to operate the Hudson Valley Summer Field Hockey League in her absence.
Gonzalez was the best player in Section 1 her senior year, when she was instrumental in Lakeland’s 2006 New York State Class A championship. She went on to a brilliant career at the University of Connecticut and is now an Olympian.
“Melissa’s skills are so fluid; she has confidence in her skills and her one-on-one defense has improved so much,” Sarsen said. “Since Melissa has been on the National team, she has learned so much and plays at such a high level. Melissa’s athleticism has always been there. Now, she has so much more to offer.”
Sarsen is awaiting Gonzalez’s first game, especially when No. 5 in red, white and blue takes the field.
“When we see Melissa on the field I am sure we will cry, laugh, yell and go nuts,” Sarsen said. “I still can’t believe it. The athletes in past Olympics had been so distant. Now London 2012 is personal. We are a part of it, not just as spectators.”