Welcome to another week of Captain’s Corner, where I sit down with a captain of a Middlebury College athletics team to talk Captain to captain about the role, the team and their life at Middlebury. This week I got a chance to speak with Grace Harlan ’22.5 about the team’s NESCAC Championship win and plans for the NCAA tournament. Harlan has helped the Panthers outscore their opponents 91 to 12 this season with nine team shutouts along the way. She enters the NCAA tournament poised to compete for what would be her fourth championship title.
Captain Rudolph: What’s the feeling of being part of Middlebury’s 5th straight NESCAC Championship win in field hockey?
Grace Harlan: Definitely as a senior, it's a really special feeling. The win reminds me of all the people I've played with in the past. Our team changes every year, in terms of the individuals, but it's always the same amazing feeling and the same goal each year. It’s crazy just being part of four out of the five. Thinking back to the 2017 team, that was the first to start the streak and having some of those seniors who I had never played with reach out yesterday when we won was a really special thing too.
CR: When did you decide you wanted to play the goalkeeper position?
GH: I was in 7th grade, and that was the first year we could play field hockey in my town. My mom had always coached, and my older sister played, so that was when my mom suggested that maybe I should be a goalie. I don't really know why she thought of it, but when she talked a bit more about the position, I realized that I wouldn’t have to run, and I could tell people what to do. It was the perfect position for me. So, I never even started field play. I just decided to be a goalie, and I got to try on a high-schooler’s pads, and I thought it was pretty fun, [so I] decided to stick with it.
CR: How do you fill your captain role from the perspective of a goalie?
GH: I feel like being a goalie has prepared me well to be a captain. Even just in the sense of being the furthest back on the field, I see a lot more. So, my role has always been to shout out what I see, whether it’s where the defense can find a pass or who needs to be marked or other things like that. Since my sophomore year, which was the first year I started games, the position made me step out of my shell a lot earlier than I think I would have because, suddenly, I was a sophomore directing the actions of the seniors in front of me. In that sense, being a goalie made me a lot more confident in terms of what I'm saying to the team and how the team is looking at me because I think there's a lot of trust in what I'm saying about the game.
CR: Part of your dominance comes from the support of a stout back line, consistent scoring and an amazing coach. What does Coach DeLorenzo do to create such a winning spirit in the team?
GH: I mean she's already been inducted into the [National Field Hockey Coaches Association] Hall of Fame, and she's still coaching, which I'm pretty sure is unheard of. I think it's a combination of things. The way she equally prioritizes culture with what we're actually doing on the field is so crucial. I think she clearly knows how to have success on the field in a tactical sense, but I don't think it would feel as good having the success that we do if she didn't also really instill the culture. The biggest thing she always says is to get to know your teammates but also to let yourself be known. I think it actually does make a big difference in the idea that you have to give a lot of yourself and be open to sharing if you want people to share with you. And we also always say we’re fun but serious. I feel like we don't take ourselves very seriously, but we take what we do seriously.
CR: What has been the most defining win during your career at Middlebury? Why?
GH: There have definitely been a few, but I would honestly say the 2021 NESCAC Championship game against Bowdoin. We went down 3–0 at home and ended up winning 4–3 in regular time. I had never let in three goals in my career, and I remember the game feeling so crazy. After that game, I wondered how we could lose when we were able to battle this kind of adversity. So, I think that was a moment where I realized we have something very special going on here with this team.
CR: What do you have planned for after graduation?
GH: I definitely know that because I didn't get to go abroad due to Covid-19, traveling is the thing that I want to do most after I graduate. I took Arabic here all four years, so I would love to be able to try to go somewhere and actually use it because my grammar is good, but my pronunciation is terrible. That's my biggest priority right now.
CR: What does the NCAA tournament mindset look like?
GH: One of the biggest things that I'm most grateful to Coach DeLorenzo for always emphasizing is the necessity to only think about the next game. So, right now, we are not thinking about if we win Saturday, who we will play on Sunday. Really, It's just the question of what Saturday looks like and how can we be at our best to play whichever team that will be. I think the one-game-at-a-time mentality has been part of the reason we’ve been so successful because then we can just concentrate all of our efforts on what's in front of us. We don't get freaked out thinking about the repercussions of a loss. Instead, we are just focusing on a moment and trying to win that game.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.