Dream Big: A Chance Worth Taking
Sept. 28, 2005
In the fall of 2000, Indiana field hockey coach Amy Robertson got very little rest. Not only was she busy coaching a fledgling Hoosier squad through the program's inaugural season, but she was also engrossed in recruiting. She didn't need any heroes, any stars. She needed a team. What Robertson found in a competitive but unflappable midfielder from Shoemakersville, Pa., was more than she ever expected.
Now a fifth-year senior, Kayla Bashore is in many ways the program's bedrock. An All-American, she was more interested in soccer than field hockey as a high school student. Although the sports are similar in style of play and strategy, Robertson's all-star has come a long way from learning how to use a stick.
"Honestly, I just thought she was a player with a lot of potential," Robertson said. "She has great footwork, she's an amazing athlete, and she was very poised. At that time, I knew she was capable of growing and becoming a great player, but I didn't know how good she would become."
One of two fifth-year seniors, Bashore rejoins the Hoosiers as the core of a returning group of six seniors. After finishing 12-8 last season to make 2004 the winningest season in the program's short six-year history, the Hoosiers kicked off this year with tremendous expectations. Indiana returned 10 starters - more than any other Big Ten team - and Robertson believes that experience has her team in legitimate contention for a Conference crown for the first time, despite having won only one Conference match each season.
After opening the Big Ten season with a riveting 3-2 double-overtime win against then-No. 6 Michigan State, the Hoosiers climbed to eighth in the national rankings - the highest standing in team history. The win avenged a 2-1 loss to the Spartans in the 2004 Big Ten tournament, and with a shutout victory against Lindenwood the next day, the Hoosiers' improved to an unprecedented 8-1 mark.
But the Hoosiers' successes weren't always visible on the horizon. Reintroduced to Indiana athletics in 2000, nearly two decades after its removal, Hoosier field hockey had to tame the unpredictability that comes with being a re-born program. Indiana claimed only one win in each of its first two seasons, the second of which was Bashore's first year with the team. She scored the first goal of her career - and the Hoosiers' season - in a season-opening loss to Miami (Ohio). But Bashore and the team wouldn't score another goal for three straight games. For Bashore, the failure was foreign territory and inexcusable.
"After we played our first game, she was so disappointed," Robertson said. "It's really hard when you're an athlete and everyone measures you by wins and losses. I knew right there, `Oh boy, we need to get better in a hurry.' It's always our goal to give our incoming players the most positive experience possible and to teach them to win in the moments rather than just look at the scoreboard at the end."
Robertson said Bashore grew impatient with losing. But rather than giving up, Bashore gave more. In striving to meet her own expectations, Bashore drove her teammates to be better.
"She's the kind of player that makes you a better coach because you want to be the best that you can so you don't let her down," Robertson said. "That's what helps with her teammates, too; no one wants to let Kayla down."
It was an arduous process, but according to Robertson, Bashore was focused, not on wins and losses, but on instilling a belief in her team. With her individual success, Bashore could have jumped ship and go to a more proven squad, but looking back, she said she wouldn't be the player or the person she is now without surviving the growing pains.
"Oh, the journey it has been," Bashore said. "To be ranked (8th) is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel; to know that all of the hard work and hopeless moments experienced earlier in Indiana's program were worth it. Seeing the ability of the team evolve and looking back on the experience, it has provided immeasurable learning experiences I otherwise might not have encountered elsewhere."
One of the Bashore's most valuable qualities, roommate Lydia Schrott said, is her experience from such trying times. She keeps the younger team members from becoming complacent with their recent success by reminding them how far they have come.
"We couldn't have done this five years ago," Schrott said. "She values every practice and every time we play because she's been through the highs and the lowest of the lows."
Even though the Hoosiers had a tough task in finding their place in the national spotlight, Bashore's play continued to garner awards among the nation's best. She gained even more recognition this season when she became the first Indiana field hockey player to ever play with the United States National Team, whose members represent the U.S. at world events and make up the majority of U.S. Olympic and World Cup roster spots.
Not long after the Hoosiers beat Northeastern in Boston, Bashore hopped on plane for Virginia Beach, Va., where she played with the National Team in a five-game series of test matches against Canada. She played in the team's win on Aug. 29 and started in the 1-1 tie on Aug. 31. The next day, Bashore, who often practices with the National Team, was back on a plane, this time heading to North Carolina to face Appalachian State in the second half of the Hoosier's four-game road trip. The test series served as an early try-out for the team's permanent roster, which will be finalized when the collegiate season is over.
"It would be a great honor to play with the best of our country," Bashore said. "I think I realized from the US coaches and teammates that the game can be played well when played simply, and when it's played well it can be really fun."
Bashore caught the attention of National Team coach Lee Bodimeade without playing in a single match last season because of a redshirt decision that began as a joke between player and coach.
"I jokingly said, `I wish I had you for two more years,' after we lost in the (2003) Big Ten tournament, completely joking," Robertson said. A couple days later, Bashore granted Robertson's wish.
"She came to me and said, `You know it's funny you said that because I'm interested in studying medicine and I need to study for the MCAT next year, and it's going to be really difficult to prepare for that and have my best senior season.'" Bashore was going to be at IU for a fifth year anyway, still completing her biology degree, so Robertson left the choice up to her.
It wouldn't have been an easy decision for most athletes, but for a Hoosier who had started every game in her three-year career and was also a four-time National Field Hockey Coaches All-Academic honors winner, Bashore made it look easy. She knew it would be difficult to watch from the sidelines, but she had never given anything less than 100 percent of herself before and she wasn't about to start.
Rather than looking at Bashore's absence as losing their best player, Robertson and the rest of her team saw a unique opportunity. "I thought it would be really good for us because Kayla had really started to emerge as the dominant player on the team," Robertson said. "We really focus around being a team; we don't have any stars, but we really felt more confident when she had the ball. And there were times that we expected her to do more than she really probably should have been doing."
Bashore may not have been playing, but she still served as a valuable team leader, attending every practice, working out with the team, and participating in all team activities. For Schrott, Bashore's decision was even more significant. Schrott, a junior forward, is also majoring in biology, and said Bashore has given her tremendous support on the field and off.
"Her work ethic is amazing," Schrott said. "She's helped me push beyond what you think you can do, in field hockey and academics."
But for Bashore, it's never been about what she's accomplished in the past. Her greatest accomplishments are yet to come.
In 2004, while Bashore watched from the sidelines, Frederique Meeuwsen broke the school-record for goals in a season with 10. Halfway through the Hoosiers' 2005 season, Bashore already has eight goals to her credit, including her first two career hat tricks.
"The ceiling is really high for Kayla, and she has all the potential to make some significant contributions to a team that may compete in the next Olympics," Robertson said. "She's simply amazing, and I just feel so fortunate that I have the opportunity to coach a player of her caliber. It is rare to have a player with so much natural talent who is constantly looking for more ways to improve and raise the level of the team."