Last month she earned MVP honors in leading the Valkyries to their 11th straight title in the Apple/Stick it to Cancer tournament.
Field hockey, however, is only one of the things that the ambitious, energetic Esselman is passionate about.
The Courier-Journal: When, and how, did you start playing field hockey?
I started playing when I was in fifth grade. My older sister had played, so I always liked to go out in the backyard and try and hit around with her. I’d tried a lot of other sports before then, soccer and softball and all these other ones, but I thought, ‘Why not try field hockey?’ When I picked it up I really couldn’t put it down, as cliche as it sounds, but it’s true. I joined my grade school’s team (at Sacred Heart Model) and I was terrible when I first started. But then I gradually started getting a little bit better and I put more time into it. I started doing IFHCK, which is the club that I play for, and I did it year-round … eventually I got to the point where I just eat, sleep and breathe field hockey.
You all lost to Assumption in the state semifinals last year, do you have some unfinished business this season?
We’re definitely focused on not just the end point, but the journey as a whole. We want to have no regrets. I think that’s our whole focus for this year.
Why did you choose Northwestern?
It’s an absolute dream come true for me because I wanted to find a place that was both athletically challenging as well as academically challenging. …When I went on campus the coaches were so heartwarming and welcoming and the team was so nice. Everybody there was so kind and they actually asked about me as a person and they didn’t judge me because I was from Kentucky. You’d be surprised when you go places people automatically sneer at the fact that you’re not from field hockey (hotbeds) like Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
What do you want to study?
I plan on studying neuroscience, something that just absolutely interests me because when everybody says, ‘Go into something you enjoy,’ I think about the brain. The way that it works and everything that it does, how it functions, the fact that it never stops working — it just intrigues me and absolutely makes me want to learn more about it … I want to be able to help people.
You’re big into music (she plays the piano and guitar) and attending concerts, what have been some of your favorites?
I’m a huge One Direction fan, huge One Direction fan. And yes I was devastated when they broke up. Well they didn’t break up, but when Zayn, who’s my favorite, left. But I also really like 5 Seconds of Summer. They came to the KFC Yum! Center (in August) and I went dressed up in a hot dog costume with socks safety-pinned all over my costume because their concert tour name was ‘Rock Out With Your Socks Out.’
Why a hot dog?
I was going to go as pizza because my favorite band member’s favorite food is pizza. Then my mom brought home some extra (costumes) and she found the hot dog and I put it on and with my bun. It ended up fitting really well and I was like, ‘I have to wear it. It doesn’t make any sense, but I have to wear it.’ I got a lot of weird stares, but I also got noticed by the band, so it was pretty cool. I like to go all out for pretty much everything I do and that was definitely a prime example of that.
Your older brother has Down syndrome and you volunteer at Down Syndrome of Louisville, what’s that like?
When I go and volunteer there it just feels like a totally different world. Most people kind of shy away a little bit, they don’t know how to act, but they’re just looking for a friend. So when we have karaoke night instead of just sitting back and watching I get up there and sing “Baby” by Justin Bieber with some of them. Just to see their smiles and to see the way that they act, it just sort of restores my faith in humanity a lot because they get so excited and so happy over the simplest things.
KATIE ESSELMAN UP CLOSE
School: Sacred Heart Academy
Sport: Field hockey
Student-athlete: Katie has a 3.91 GPA and his working toward an IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma at Sacred Heart.
Family: Katie, 18, lives with her mom, Michele, her father, Paul, her older brother, Bryan, 21, and her younger sister, Claire, 16, who is a sophomore at SHA. She also has an older sister, Laura, 24.
Sacred Heart coach Eleanor Mitchell: Katie’s a really, really hard-worker. She really does show up every day and work hard. She pushes her teammates. She’s a good teammate. She’s a team player, she’s not out there for herself, she’s out there to win and she’s going to do what it takes to win for the team, not for herself.