BY ANGELO LYNN
BRANDON — A couple of weeks ago, an out-of-town sports team came to Brandon to donate a day of free labor. Brandon’s economic development and recreation director Bill Moore welcomed the help and put the Castleton University field hockey team to work moving a big pile of woodchips at the Seminary Hill Park playground and painting picnic tables at Estabrook Park.
What’s the connection with the CU team and Brandon, you ask?
It goes back several years to when Emily Lowell was a star field hockey player at Otter Valley from 2010-2014. She and her sister Allison Lowell both had outstanding careers in field hockey at OV and later at CU with Emily racking up 33 career goals for the Spartans and Allison having 22 goals and 21 assists. Emily was also named the North Atlantic Conference Player of The Year during her senior year at Castleton.
During those years she became friends with Moore, and two weekends ago she brought her new team at Castleton U — at which she is now the head coach — to Brandon to give a little to the community that had given her so much.
“It was great being here and being able to give back to the community,” Lowell said. “It was a lot of fun to do, and fun to be back in touch with Bill, who I have always had a great connection with. And we did some good. We moved a lot of woodchips, weeded some flowerbeds and painted the picnic tables at Estabrook! I’d love to do more, but we have a full schedule with practices and games. Being a college athlete is a lot of work, and fitting things like a community work day in is a rare opportunity, but really great for bonding as a team and doing some good outside of college life.”
Lowell fell into the coaching job at Castleton this August just as the season was ready to launch. That’s when Charlotte MacDonald resigned from the coaching position this summer, and CU Athletic Director had to hustle to find a replacement. Lowell had been the assistant field hockey coach at NCAA Division II University of New Haven in 2020, until COVID hit and everyone was out of a job. Fortunately, Lowell was close by working at the Mountain Top Inn in Chittenden when MacDonald called in early August. Lowell jumped at the opportunity to come coach for her home team — even if she had just a few weeks to prepare for the season in what is a competitive league.
“We’re a very young team with just 14 players,” she said of the 5-9 season as of this early this week, “but we’re putting in the time and effort not only on our physical conditioning but on our mental toughness. Playing experience is such a huge part of the game… We knew it would be a tough year, but I’m really happy with our progress and next year it’s going to be a whole different ball game.”
Asked to describe the difference between playing at the high school level and college and she’s quick to say that it’s a lot faster, requires a lot of time and time-management skills for practices and games, but that if a high school student wants to play at the college level, there is a spot there for most dedicated players.
“If you’re fully committed, absolutely, there are schools out there who will give you the chance, but you have to be willing to work hard at it.”
Is it worth the effort to compete at the college? Again, Lowell doesn’t hesitate.
“I think it’s huge to complete at the college level in so many ways,” she said in a recent interview. “There are really great life lessons — developing personal discipline and holding others accountable to name two — but it’s hard to be a college athlete. There is a lot of sacrifice, our schedule is really strenuous with two hour practices, games twice a week, and lifting twice a week, you really have to plan ahead to get all your school work done well to remain on the team.”
Lowell recalled her practices at CU started at 6 a.m., meaning she had to get up at 4:30 a.m. on those mornings so she could run a bit before starting a hard practice. But that kind of discipline is “great,” she said. “When you’ve been up, gone for a run, had a hard two-hour practice, grabbed a bite to eat and it’s just 8:30 in the morning and you’re ready for the day, you feel excited and energetic, like you’ve already accomplished so much and the whole day is ahead of you.”
One of the things that excites Lowell about being at CU is the proximity to home, and the ability to help develop the sport throughout Vermont.
“OV has a strong place in my heart,” she said, recalling that it “was the only sport I was any good at.” She recalled her father sending her to field hockey camp in the third grade, and initially she didn’t like it, but once her father came to visit and said she was good at it, she’s never looked back.
“Now I just love the game and the culture around it; the team chemistry. I love the game because of its fast pace; it’s very intense, requires good eye-hand coordination and there’s a lot of versatility in the shots you can make on attack. There are so many different shots you can take,” she said, in a rapid-fire burst of excitement that had her recalling her days as an attacker in high school and college.
“I was always an attacker. I didn’t want to give up on the ball or goal, I wanted to win, to push the ball into the goal or feed it to a teammate who could.”
It’s that kind of drive that makes Lowell hope for good things for the Castleton field hockey team in the years ahead.
“I see us winning a championship some time down the road, and next year I see us being a competitive team, but we need to put in the work.”
That same kind of work ethic and ambition bodes well for Vermont’s field hockey program, as well. Lowell notes that Vermont is far behind states like Pennsylvania (which has statewide organized programs starting in the third grade) and other New England states, but says Vermont has some good programs and that other schools and communities could easily embrace the game and advance its overall level of play.
“Starting a grade-school program through the town (Brandon-Pittsford) would be fantastic,” she said, adding it’s “something I’ve talked to Bill about. I would love to bring that to Vermont. So girls could improve their skills and fall in love with the sport at a much younger age.”