Oct. 14, 2008
By Larry Watts
Floor Rijpma had done a good job of preparing herself when she arrived on the Michigan State University campus over three years ago.
There was no question about her ability to play field hockey. After all, the Bunnik, Netherlands native had established herself as one of the top players in her age group during her developmental years.
Although she might struggle with a word or two, the language was not a problem. And she could always lean on that Dutch pipeline created by Rolf van de Kerkhof, who has been coaching in the Spartan field hockey program for the past 10 years, the last three as head coach.
And that pipeline proved invaluable during her recruiting process. "I never visited Michigan State, didn't even know what it was all about, but there were players back home I could talk to about the school," Rijpma says. "They had gone to Michigan State and supplied me with a lot of information about the program and their experiences. It turned out to be a great decision."
Rijpma, one of three Dutch imports on the Spartans roster, is one of the prime reasons Michigan State (12-1, 3-0 Big Ten) is back among the nation's elite. The Spartans had strung together a nine-match winning streak and climbed to No. 6 nationally before dropping a 2-1 decision to third-ranked Wake Forest last Saturday in Evanston, Il.
Rijpma, who was recently named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after scoring five goals in two matches (four against Indiana), has been having a breakout season. The junior midfielder has already scored a career-high 13 goals and has 29 points, needing two more to match her 2007 total when she was named second team All-Big Ten, first team All-Region and third team All-America.
Van de Kerkhof doesn't try to hide his feelings about Rijpma's potential. "Between Floor and Jeamie Deacon (a junior from Wexford, Ireland), I have two of the top five college field hockey players I have seen nationally in the past 10 years, and I've seen a lot," he says. "Floor is a star and, at the same time, she's a great team player. She can decide a game, but she's not selfish and always shows a lot of energy. She coaches her teammates the way she wants to be coached."
Van de Kerkhof, a native of Tilburg, The Netherlands, spent 16 years as a player in his homeland before turning to coaching full time in 1999. During his seven years as an assistant with the Spartans, Michigan State reached the Final Four twice (2002 and 2004) and the Elite Eight two other times (2001 and 2003).
Van de Kerkhof spotted Rijpma while attending a showcase in The Netherlands a few years ago. "I didn't have to focus too much on the other players, she stood out above all the rest," he says. "We started a dialog about where she was from and what she had done, and I was impressed. It doesn't matter whether it is foreign or domestic, you have to go after the good players."
What Van de Kerkhof is trying to do at Michigan State is create the right blend.
"Field hockey is a component of four areas -- technique, tactics, physical preparation and mental preparation. In Europe, we are known for tactics and technique, while the Americans are superior in their physical and mental play.
"I tell my (foreign) players I can make you better in those last two areas and you can help me in the first two. Then we'll create a winning situation and when you go home, I can pretty much guarantee you will play major league hockey, which is very big in Europe."
That's exactly where he sees Rijpma in the next few years -- a star for one of the professional teams in Europe. And that could very well include a berth on the powerful Olympic team representing The Netherlands.
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see Floor in the Olympics," says her coach. "The Dutch women have won the Olympic gold medal (in Beijing) and have been in the medal round of every Olympic or World Cup event over the last 10 years."
Before thinking about the Olympics or a professional field hockey career, Rijpma sees a little unfinished business at Michigan State, such as helping the Spartans return to the Final Four.
"Being on this team is an amazing experience, the chemistry is just unbelievable," she says. "I feel like I owe it to all of them because they have been my second family. There's a big ocean separating me from my first family and I only get a chance to get back to Bunnik twice a year."
After completing her degree in hospitality business, Rijpma plans to return to The Netherlands and pursue a masters in international business management. "I really love to travel," she says.
And she doesn't plan on giving up on field hockey in the near future.
"My mother (Monique) played until she was 48," Rijpma says. "She really knows the sport and would always be out there watching my games and practices. I guess I have a few years left in me."