Learning to Adjust
Oct. 23, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Yesenia Luces has spent four years in Columbus, Ohio, adjusting to live away from home in Trinidad and Tobago. She describes her first year spent in the Midwest as sad, mainly in part because of the snowy and freezing winter. Three months ago for her birthday, the self-proclaimed beach lover and two friends from back home went searching for paradise in the northern part of the state. What they found was Cedar Point, an amusement and water park, that had what Luces had been searching for this entire time - sand.
"We were walking to the water park and saw what looked like a beach," Luces said. "We were so exited when we touched the sand. We got a little taste of home."
Columbus has been a learning experience for the senior midfielder on the Buckeyes' field hockey team. A native of Port of Spain, which is the capital city of the cluster of islands in the Caribbean, Luces has not only adjusted to the climate in the Midwest, but also the culture. Everything from the sport of field hockey, to the pace of life, and even the way people communicate, is different.
Through her first winter during her freshman season, Luces realized that her experience in the United States was going to stem from how she responded to things she had control over, unlike the weather.
"The winters helped me changed," Luces said. "I was so sad my first year because it was cold and snowy all the time. I learned quickly that the weather was something I could not control. Now I just forget about that stuff and move on to focus on the things I can control."
Field hockey has been one of those things in her life that Luces appears to have control over. Since arriving to Columbus in 2004, she has excelled on the playing field and has been one of the Big Ten's most dominant offensive threats.
As a newcomer, she ranked second on the team in goals (7) and tied for third in points (15), but has led the Buckeyes in the majority of the offensive categories since her sophomore season. Heading into this week's regular-season finale at Penn State, Luces has started in 57 straight contests and is third all-time in OSU career assists (35), fourth in points (123) and fifth in goals (44).
Currently in the Big Ten, she is tied for third in points and goals after leading the conference in overall scoring the last two seasons. The two-time All-American was also the first Buckeye last season to ever be named the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year.
Scoring is something that seems to come easy to Luces, who has scored or assisted on 16 of the Buckeyes' 35 goals this season. She says she doesn't feel pressure or any added weight on her shoulder this year. What works for her is being relaxed on the field. The rest, she says, comes naturally.
"So many times there are players whose main focus is on scoring or passing," Luces said. "For me, it just happens. If you think about that all the time, it will never happen. It has never been about that for me."
Perhaps her approach to scoring is just another way of simply controlling only the things she can control. In field hockey, often times you are just in the right place at the right time.
Last season seemed to be a perfect time for the Buckeyes. The 2006 squad experienced arguably the best season in Ohio State history. The Buckeyes advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship for the first time in four appearances. They also clinched their first outright regular-season conference title with a 5-1 record.
"We were practically unstoppable in 2006 when we were winning," Luces said. "We had a lot of different styles of field hockey on last year's team that meshed well together."
But this year has been more of a struggle for the Buckeyes. Ohio State is 6-10 overall and 2-3 in conference play heading into Friday's matchup against Penn State. In order to qualify for the NCAA Championship, OSU must win next week's Big Ten Tournament, which the Buckeyes host Nov. 1-4.
That is exactly what Luces plans to do.
"Our season hasn't gone exactly the way we have wanted it to, but we have one main goal right now, and that's winning the conference tournament," she said.
Luces has been a constant leader this year for a team that boasts 10 freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors and four seniors. She admits it has been a challenge keeping her head up, while encouraging her teammates to stay focused and do the same. But just as everything that has come Luces' way, it has been something she has adjusted to, and welcomed.
"We have so many freshmen and sophomores, they outnumber the upperclassmen this year," she said. "I think it is important to be a good leader and tell and show them what OSU is all about. It's been hard, but I feel that has shaped me into a leader."
This year she has also been without former teammate and Trinidad and Tobago native Curlyne Wynn, who Luces credits for leading her to Ohio State. The two islanders grew up 10 minutes away from each other and communicated by e-mail when Luces was back home and Wynn was a freshman at OSU.
"She would write me and tell me about the school and the athletic department," said Luces, who was also considering UMass. "Eventually she ended up selling me on Ohio State."
Two summers ago, Luces and Wynn both were members of the Trinidad and Tobago National Team that finished fourth in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. While she admits that there is no lack of speed or skill in the players back home, the Buckeye senior says American field hockey is much more structured and organized.
That structure has not only helped Luces improve as a player, but it has also enabled her to become "not as shy as she used to be."
"I find myself not only being able to talk to more people, but I have been able to put myself in a position for success in the future," she said. "I am now able to talk to businessmen and CEOs, which I never thought I could do."
The hospitality management major is looking to gain experience in the field and stay at least a year after her planned graduation in June. She wants to continue learning about the culture here and how it could apply or even improve the lifestyle back home on the island. Ultimately, home is where she wants to end up.
In the meantime, Luces remains focused on a win at Penn State and capturing the Big Ten Tournament title at home next week. All she wants is for her Buckeye career to continue.
But in case the next few weeks present some things that are out of Luces' control, she will end her career in Columbus doing one of the very first things she learned to do when she came to the States.
And then she'll prepare for winter.