Oct. 9, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Since arriving from Ireland, Jeamie Deacon has had to deal with a lot change. She is moving at a faster pace in life, adjusting to a different style of field hockey, and even learning the art of tailgating. But perhaps the biggest change of all for the Irish standout has been change itself. Literally.
"The money over here has been tough to get use to," Deacon said. "I never know what kind or how much change to give."
All things are not lost with Deacon however. In an effort to further introduce her to true American culture, her Spartan teammates are trying to get her hooked on the hit television series Grey's Anatomy.
Whew..., Welcome to America.
Deacon hails from Wexford, a countryside town on the southeast side of the country. She was raised on a farm, growing corn, wheat and barley, while tending to the cows when she was little. Farming was the way of life in the small community, where Deacon says "everybody knows your name." And while that sounds all too familiar to fans of another hit series in Cheers, Deacon used the famous neighborhood pub's line unknowingly since she grew up with only four channels on her television set.
Playing field hockey was something Deacon always enjoyed doing in her homeland. She never once considered attending college in the United States, but noted she was at a crossroad in her life and happened to receive a phone call from an interested MSU head coach Rolf van de Kerkhof. A native of The Netherlands and a 16-year field hockey standout himself, van de Kerkhof maintained his contacts in Europe from his playing days, and when the Spartan head coach was in his first year at the helm last season, he knew he had some phone calls to make overseas. One of those calls was to a former colleague in Ireland.
"No matter what you do, the world is a very small place and it's important to keep your network," van de Kerkhof said. "I called one of my friends in Ireland and said, `Hey, I'm looking," and he told me to take a look at Jeamie. That's how we got on track and then we looked into the transfer process and began teaching her a little about the American culture."
Having spent the 2006-07 season with the Old Alex Hockey Club, Deacon was forced to enroll at Michigan State as a sophomore. While van de Kerkhof is still looking into submitting waivers for an additional year for Deacon, he is still pleased to have her in the States for three years.
In van de Kerkhof's first season in East Lansing, the Spartans were 8-12 with a 1-5 mark in Big Ten play. Already this year MSU is 11-4 overall, 2-1 in conference action, and ranked seventh in the country in the latest STX/NFHCA top 20 poll. Statistically, the Spartans' offense ranks second in the nation in scoring margin (3.40), assists per game (3.60), and points per game (12.93).
Deacon has played a key role in Michigan State's offensive attack this season, as she ranks second in the conference with 3.93 shots per game, third in total points (26), fourth in assists (8), and fifth in goals scored (9).
The Spartan newcomer admits to having success from the corners and free-hits outside the circle, but van de Kerkhof hints that much of her quick learning to the American game stems from her international background.
"A very pleasant thing about Jeamie is that she comes from a culture where field hockey is a big sport," he said. "The culture allows you to develop at a younger age and a faster pace."
Adapting to the American field hockey culture is something that Deacon has taken in stride. She admits that while she might have been playing the sport longer than most of her teammates, the fitness level in American field hockey was not something she was prepared for.
"The fitness of the girls here is unbelievable," she said. "The girls that came in for the season were so fit already."
But the new culture has provided Deacon several memorable experiences that she feels she would not have gotten had she stayed back in Ireland. She talks about how supportive people are of her in East Lansing and that her favorite experience so far has been tailgating with the parents after the game.
"We'll talk about how the game went, but the atmosphere in general is so nice, you just feel really taken care of," she said.
Those comments please van de Kerkhof, who admits that he used the American culture has one of his selling points to Deacon during the recruiting process.
"I just told her that the best sports culture in the world is found here in America," van de Kerkhof said in his rich accent. "This is a culture where people get their USA Today in the morning and immediately turn to the sports section, instead of the world news. This country is sports crazy and everything here is about providing opportunities to win."
In selling Michigan State to Deacon, he noted the great facilities, support and coaches that are not only found in East Lansing, but in the Big Ten as well. He also knew that Deacon's dream is to play for the Ireland National Team, so he told her that there were some things about her game that he felt he could fix to prepare her for the next level.
Deacon has already contributed a great deal to several Ireland national teams. She was a member of the Irish U-18 and U-21 squads for European Cup competitions and is a member of the Irish senior squad. Her sights are set on the Olympics, which for her, would be a dream come true.
"That's the ultimate dream," Deacon said of playing in the Olympics. "It is unbelievable to stand there before the game, seeing your flag as the national anthem plays. To make it to the top senior level would be unreal."
In the meantime, Deacon is focused on her life in the U.S. She is leaning toward a major in engineering, admitting that subjects such as art or writing are not for her.
"I guess I'm just better at science. It could be math, biology or physics, but the other stuff is not for me."
Perhaps neither are quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies, but it seems the main change Deacon has made in her life - the embracing of American culture, education and field hockey - has already paid off.