Overcoming Skull Fracture That Ended Her PU Career, Reinprecht Returning to Olympics for U.S. Field Hockey
HEADING BACK: Former Princeton University field hockey star Julia Reinprecht chases down a ball in action for the U.S. national team. Standout defender Reinprecht, a 2014 Princeton grad, has overcome a serious head injury suffered in her final college game to make the U.S. squad for the upcoming 2016 Rio Summer Games. It is Reinprecht’s second trip to the Olympics as she played in the 2012 London Summer Games. Reinprecht’s older sister, Katie, a star midfielder and fellow Princeton standout, will be joining her on the U.S. squad along with another former Tiger, Kat Sharkey. (Photo by Mark Palczewski, Courtesy of USA Field Hockey)
Julia Reinprecht’s heady play and stick skills have made her one of the top defenders in U.S. field hockey.
The 2014 Princeton University grad played for the U.S. squad in the 2012 Summer Olympics and helped the Tigers to the NCAA title that year, earning All-America honors in all four seasons in college and being named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
But suffering a severe head injury in her final appearance at Princeton in November, 2013 nearly derailed Reinprecht’s field hockey career. She was hit in the head with a stick while playing against Penn State in the first round of the NCAA tournament and what was initially thought to be a concussion turned out to be a skull fracture with bleeding in her brain.
Reinprecht was essentially forced to rest for months with no physical activities. She suffered migraine headaches during the healing process but they eventually abated due to a combinations of medications figured out by her father, Jim, a doctor.
“I started playing again in February; my skull fracture hadn’t healed; the reason I started back so early was that I was determined to get back in 2014 because we had the World Cup that summer,” said Reinprecht.
“I wore a helmet in a couple of games, which is humiliating, and then I had to wear some head band apparatus because it took a little while for it to completely heal. I think you always have a little bit of a fear if you get hit in the head. I just feel like, once you get in the flow of the game, it is out of sight and out of mind.”
Reinprecht got into the flow of the things for the U.S., getting back to 100 percent and regaining her status as one of the program’s top defenders.
This week, Reinprecht will be returning to the Olympics, playing for the U.S. squad that will compete in the Rio Summer Games.
For Reinprecht, earning the trip to Rio along with her older sister Katie, a fellow Princeton standout, and another former Tiger teammate, Kat Sharkey, was a special moment.
“It was exciting, you never know you are going to make the team until you have the conversation,” said the 5’3 Reinprecht, 25, a native of Perkasie, Pa. who now has 145 caps for the U.S.
“You can be confident and everything but it is still just like a wow moment when you are going to the Olympic Games. It is a wow moment because you finally know who you are going with. It is really exciting, this is who I am going to represent the U.S.A. with. I read the email with Katie so I was obviously excited. It was so nice that Kat made it as well.”
Reflecting on the U.S. team’s experience at the 2012 London Summer Games, Reinprecht acknowledges that there weren’t many wow moments on the field as the U.S. won one of six matches and scored just five goals.
“We obviously hoped to do better and it was a little bit devastating to get last place after putting in all of that work and having so much faith in your team entering the Olympic Games,” said Reinprecht.
“It was quite tough going through that but it was an awesome experience going to the Olympic Games in general, all athletes will tell you that.”
Learning from the tough results in London steeled the U.S. going forward. “I think 100 percent, we know where our failings were in the last one,” said Reinprecht.
“It is a motivation factor but is also a really good experience that so many of us went through that. We transformed our program; we got an entirely new staff (led by new head coach Craig Parnham) and we relocated to Pennsylvania (Lancaster) and made it into a full-time residency program. If you are not here on a full-time basis, most likely you would not be able to compete for the team or be up for selection to any of the tournaments. Before you could come in and out of the program when you wanted so that has been a huge commitment made on behalf of the players and the coaches.”
That commitment has helped the U.S. enjoy success in some big tournaments as it took fourth in the 2014 World Cup before taking gold medals in the 2014 Champions Challenge and the 2015 Pan American Games.
Seeing the benefits of the new approach has given the U.S. players a special unity.
“It has been kind of crazy how much we are together and how well we get along,” said Reinprecht.
“There is so much importance to playing with the same people and building that chemistry. Just being together all the time has built that off-field chemistry as well. I think it has been really important with the on-field dynamic as well as our relationships off the field. I think that has transformed us, by being together all the time.”
Another step in that transformation occurred this June when the U.S. placed third at the Champions Trophy tournament in London.
“We didn’t have a lot of expectations, we were the lowest ranked team,” said Reinprecht.
“We hadn’t played teams of that caliber in a while so we were saying this is a perfect learning tournament for us. It will tell us exactly what we need to work on going into the Olympics to be super prepared for Rio. To actually get the medal and play the way that we wanted to confirmed that we can play at that level so that was really exciting.”
Reinprecht is prepared to hold the fort on the back line for the U.S. “To protect the circle,” said Reinprecht, not mincing words when asked to describe her role on the team.
“That is the whole team’s goal, to not let the opposition get too many chances on goal but I really take that job to heart. At the Champions Trophy, we were letting teams get into the circle too easily so it is like OK, we are literally going to protect the circle with everything we have got. That is basically my job and one that I think all defenders on our team are going to take pride in.”
The team focused on fine-tuning things as it went through its final practices in Lancaster before heading to Rio.
“They say we are not going to rework the whole system so we are focusing on details, focusing on what our strengths are as a team, and making sure that we bring it to every practice and just train really, really hard,” said Reinprecht.
“There are not many more changes that we can make but everything is in the details of what we need to do technically to be really sound at the Olympics.”
Maintaining that attention to detail will be key for Reinprecht and her teammates as they look to make a medal run out of Pool B in Rio, starting with their opener against Argentina on August 6.
“We are very driven, our goal is to be on the podium but really we have a certain style and certain expectations for how we want to play,” said Reinprecht, in assessing the team’s approach to the competition which is taking place from August 6-19.
“We are trying not to be results driven; the focus is on how we are competing. We don’t want to get away from that. Similar to how we did it with the Champions Trophy, we need to be approaching each game individually and working on getting better and better and hopefully be the best at the end.”