Although Julia Reinprecht is the youngest player on the U.S. Olympic women’s field hockey team, she doesn’t feel out of place.
“There are a couple of girls from college and I fit in with them,” said Reinprecht, who turns 21 on July 12 and is a rising junior with the Princeton University field hockey team. “The players have all been welcoming.”
On the field, defender Reinprecht welcomes the chance to play around some veterans.
“We have two defenders who went to the 2008 Olympics as did the goalie so I am playing around a lot of experienced players,” said Reinprecht, a native of North Wales, Pa. who tallied a total of 14 goals and 20 assists in her first two seasons at Princeton.
In order to maximize her chances of becoming a member of the U.S. team’s defensive crew, Reinprecht decided to take a year off from Princeton to live and train with the national squad at its San Diego facility.
“The decision was completely the best thing I have done; it was worth it,” said Reinprecht.
“At school, there are distractions. Here you play with your teammates and focus on practices and lifting. The most important thing is competing with your teammates.”
Having older sister, Katie, a rising senior star for Princeton, plus Tiger teammates Kat Sharkey and Michelle Cesan along with her in San Diego made things go smoother for Reinprecht.
“Being with my sister and teammates really helped the transition,” said Reinprecht, who will also be joined in London by her elder sister and Cesan, an alternate on the squad with Sharkey not making the team. “It was like freshman year of college, you have to adjust.”
In going through her daily paces in San Diego, Reinprecht had to adjust her game.
“We have some extremely fast and talented strikers; it has helped my tackling skills and outletting,” said Reinprecht.
“I am learning to communicate and organize better. I didn’t do that as much before; I realize how important that is.”
The U.S. players took an important step when they beat Argentina 4-2 last October in the Pan American Games gold medal contest to clinch a spot in the London Olympics.
“That solidified things for us; we were able to grow off of that,” said Reinprecht, reflecting on the triumph over Argentina, the top-ranked team in the world at the time.
“We want to recreate those moments of excellence. It was great that we didn’t have to worry about qualifying later; we were able to completely dedicate ourselves to preparing for the Olympics.”
There were some nervous moments before Reinprecht’s Olympic trip was confirmed as each athlete in the player pool had a face-to-face meeting with the coaches to see if they had made the cut for London.
“I had all the nerve symptoms; I had the shakes; it was completely nerve-wracking,” recalled Reinprecht. “Hearing that I made it was rewarding; it was pretty awesome.”
It was awesome for Reinprecht to learn minutes later that her older sister had also made the 16-player squad.
“She came out; she was smiling,” said Reinprecht. “I was already on the phone with our father and I put Katie on with him and then we hugged.”
As Reinprecht and her teammates look ahead to the Olympic competition, they know they will have to put in a superior effort to have a chance at a medal. The U.S., currently ranked 10th in the world, will be playing in Pool B with the top two teams from each group advancing to the medal round.
“It is nice having so many veterans who went last time; they were thrilled by the experience but disappointed by how the U.S. did,” said Reinprecht, noting that the U.S. placed eighth at the Beijing Games.
“We believe the U.S. can do well; we want to go out and compete well. We are in a tough pool. If we are able to get out of this pool, that will be the best preparation for the medal round.
In Reinprecht’s view, the U.S. has the pace and spirit to do well. “We need to execute basic skills; we believe speed is our advantage,” said Reinprecht.
“If we get in that medal round, we have to use that American spirit and fight really hard.”
While the last year has sped by for Reinprecht, she hasn’t let her relative youth keep her from savoring the experience.
“It has been exciting; everything has gone so fast,” said Reinprecht. “It was a thrill winning the Pan Am Games. A lot of things have happened. The team is looking good; we are growing. It is great to be part of that.”