Each sport has its own spots which attract emerging talent. For basketball, there’s the legendary Rucker Park in Harlem. High school football is Texas. For hockey? It’s the Netherlands.
And that’s where Drexel coach Dennis Zielinak turned when she was looking for new talent to hire.
After submitting high school highlight videos and hosting FaceTime meetings with Drexel employees during the hiring process, Puk Thewessen, Amber Brouwer, Isabel Jacobs and Eline Di Leva brought her Dutch hockey heritage to Philadelphia.
Hockey is one of the most popular sports in the Netherlands and has a very successful history. The women’s hockey team took first place in the IHF World Ranking and won gold for the 11th time this year at the Olympic Games and the European Hockey League.
Zielinak, in his 26th season with Drexel, said it was important to recruit from the Netherlands.
“The recruiting is insane,” Zelinak said. “There are four to seven points in a year, which is a game if someone wants to come to school and for us personally, there is someone who wants to come every four years. It’s all about finding Drexel matches.
“It was also important that we stay in the Netherlands because of the language barrier. A little sense of belonging between them is important, and I think they are also more successful, more comfortable and more confident in the presence of the other. “
Drexel has had seven Dutch players since 2003, but they aren’t the only school in Philadelphia to hire talent there. In Town 6 there are 16 hockey players from the Netherlands – four in Drexel and St. Joseph (Celeste Smits, Manon van Wiesel, Frick van Tilburg, Robin Blekemollen), three in Temple (Merthe Schuelenburg, Ninke Orlemans, Tess Muller) and Ben (Liz Zandbergen, Sabine Baumann and Friedrich Wohlert), and two in Villanova (Anne Darby and Sabine de Reuter).
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In Drexel (4-8), De Leyva tied with 14 points, while Thossen, Brewer and Jacobs were second with nine points in Friday’s Dragons game against Northeastern.
Last season, Drexel finished 3-3 as a team. The young Leyva forward led the Dragons in three offensive categories, including goals (six), assists (seven) and points (19), and was the pick of a whole new team.
Thewiessen described the game as “family” in the Netherlands.
“I think the kind of hockey they play here in America is a lot more aggressive than in their home country,” said Twissen, captain and first quarterback. “At home I played a sport for fun and it’s always fun here, but there are a lot of expectations and responsibilities. That pressure was scary at first, but now we’re all used to it. “
When they arrived, they were surprised at the difference in popularity of hockey in America compared to the Netherlands.
“A lot of people here don’t even know hockey. People always ask me, ‘What are you doing, is it the same as ice hockey?’ Said de Leyva. “During this time my friends and I were at home on [field hockey] club all weekend.
“One day we played together and other days we went to see all the older players that we admire. The whole weekend was a hockey game.
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The Netherlands is club-based and has no affiliation with any hockey schools, so the American system was new to them.
“A lot of people who start studying at home decide to stop exercising,” says Tewissen. “So it’s good that you can play here when you go to college. In fact, hockey opens a lot of doors for colleges and universities when they are closed from home.
Coming from a country roughly 2.8 times smaller than Pennsylvania has been a huge cultural shift. De Leyva and Breuer were able to visit the school before deciding to go to Drexel.
“It’s different for us because if you’re American you can visit the school and I couldn’t,” said Jacobs, a CAA first team junior midfielder. “But my first FaceTime conversation with the coaches, they made me feel really good and made me feel like family. I also like that it is the school in the city. “
They also had to overcome the language barrier, as they had spoken Dutch for most of their lives. While they learned English in school from the age of 12, real-life experiences helped them deepen their language learning.
“You learn it through music or TV shows,” said Jacobs, who is young. “But I struggled a lot when I got here. I was even afraid to talk, but you have to talk all the time, and it really helps. Now in my third year I have improved a lot.
The mutual presence facilitated their transition from the Netherlands to Drexel.
“You are in a country where you don’t speak your mother tongue,” said young full-back and midfielder Brewer. “Of course there are a lot of people here to help us, but it can always be intimidating. If the other Dutch here help each other. So if we have language issues or cultural differences, we know we can count on each other. some.”
Thiessen said some international players may come for a limited time to try the United States. But the Drexel Quartet is here for a long time before returning to the Netherlands.
“When we got here we didn’t know what to expect, but we’re still here and we’re all planning to graduate,” Tewison said. “It takes effort not only for us to commit to a place for four years, but also for the coaches and the team to make us feel welcome, and they understood that.”
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