For someone who elected to play field hockey as a “side sport” next to soccer, Atholton (Columbia, Md.) junior midfielder Jennifer Bleakney is good. Really good.
Last season Bleakney helped Atholton claim its first 3A state title. Beyond a three-year varsity status and a place on the All-County Team, Bleakney’s athletic prowess has gained momentum on a national scale.
Within five years of experience under her feet, she was named to the USA Women’s Junior National Outdoor Team. And this is just the start. Bleakney is working toward her ultimate goal of making the USA Field Hockey Olympic team in the future. For now, she has two more prep seasons to work her magic.
As a former soccer player, what’s a skill you’ve been able to apply to play field hockey?
Bleakney: The footwork that goes into soccer is similar with that of field hockey. A lot of girls who come from soccer and turn to field hockey take their foot skills and are amazing players.
Tell us about your transition into high school, when you started varsity as a freshman. What was it like going head on against faster, older players?
Bleakney: Playing against older girls was definitely intimidating. They have much more experience and power. I had to learn how to take that in, and I’ve picked up many new skills from them. I played against a lot of older girls at a young age, and my club coaches were very demanding at times, so that really helped me grow and prepare.
You’ve have the opportunity to travel abroad to play field hockey. What was that like?
Bleakney: It was one of the best experiences of my life. My club coach is from China, and we traveled to her province and played in a national selection tournament. I wasn’t in a main city so it really opened my eyes to other cultures that you don’t get to experience everyday.
What most surprised you during the trip?
Bleakney: The food, the culture and the people – they’re very laid back. No one spoke English, and they hadn’t seen Americans. They took pictures of the team everywhere.
You recently won a 5K in a respectable 19:06. A race is obviously a much different running experience compared to running you do on the field. What did that feel like?
Bleakney: It was so hard. That was my first race, and at the end, I wanted to sit down before I finished. In field hockey, you’re stopping and going and you have a second to breathe. When you’re running a race, you don’t get time to rest, so you have to mentally tell yourself that you have to finish.