Variety has been the spice of Katie Alden’s sporting life. She started playing softball in kindergarten, took up ice hockey in elementary school, and began competing in field hockey at middle school.
When Alden (this reporter’s daughter) came to the Princeton Day School as a freshman in 2011, she saw the opportunity to keep wearing three hats athletically and proceeded to make the varsity teams in each of her sports.
Over the last four years, Alden proved to be a player for all seasons. In field hockey, she ended up as a two-year starter at goalie, a team captain, a first-team All Prep B performer and a NFHCA National Academic All American. On the ice, she played goalie, served as a captain, and was a WIHLMA All-Academic first team honoree. She won the school’s Varsity Award for both programs. On the diamond, she is a starting infielder and the team captain.
Earlier this month, Alden reflected on her three-sport experience as she was the focus of the softball program’s annual Senior Day being the only member of the Class of 2015 on the squad.
“All senior days are bittersweet for an athlete and I think this was extremely bittersweet for me since it is my last season at PDS,” said Alden. “I have been playing on varsity teams since I was a freshman. It has really been a large portion of my experience at the Princeton Day School.”
With the PDS softball program struggling to stay alive in the wake of low numbers, Alden was touched to be the lone senior on the team.
“For softball especially, the struggle we have gone through to keep the program and to see it flourishing in my senior year is really heartwarming for me,” said Alden.
“I never expected to have 17 girls on the team in my senior year when we started my freshman year with a crew of nine or 10.”
Alden played a key role in keeping the program afloat, recruiting ice hockey players to take up the sport.
“There are five ice hockey girls and two girls from my advisory group on the team,” said Alden.
“I really emphasized to them that it is a fun game, there is not much pressure, it is not scary. It is something to be together and have fun. The hockey girls love playing with each other and being with each other. I emphasized to them that it would be another opportunity for them to play for their school. It is hard to turn down an offer to support your school in a positive way.”
Drawing on her experience in field hockey and ice hockey, Alden has gone out of her way to create a positive atmosphere around the team.
“In my third season as a captain, it almost comes naturally to me to be in that leadership role,” said Alden.
“There is a fine line between helping the coach lead and being too much of an influence on girls. You have to make sure that they know that you are one of them and are on their side no matter what. I try to make that clear to the coach and my team.”
Alden’s time in the game has helped her influence the newcomers to softball. “With softball especially, I have more experience,” said Alden, who utilized that knowledge by filling in a number of spots around the diamond this spring for the Panthers, playing at first base, second, shortstop, and third at various points this season and batting second in the order before moving to the leadoff spot.
“I have been playing softball since I was five so I have 13 years of experience in the game. It is engrained in my head what to do in every situation. I like to share that with them so they know and can teach others as well.”
Those efforts have borne fruit as the Panthers went 2-11 this spring after a winless campaign in 2014.
“I had hoped that I was a part of making this program what it is today,” said Alden.
“We didn’t play necessarily to win every game, we play to have our strongest game, be a team, and have fun. Winning comes second and third but it is always fun to win and it really shows that this program will continue to be a program. It is going to grow and it is going to improve. I hope one day it will be extremely competitive with the surrounding schools.”
PDS head coach Paul Lano, for his part, credits Alden with playing a major role in the program’s progress.
“We have got half a roster of hockey players who never played softball before which is directly due to Katie Alden,” said Lano.
“She was the first hockey player to come out here and do this and she inspired the rest. Now they all love it. I owe it to her, she is the one.”
Lano loved seeing Alden’s growth as a leader this spring. “She became this mother hen, she really took over back in January when we had our first team meetings,” said Lano.
“She helped me run the show, helped get everyone involved. Katie has really shined in a leadership role this year. I couldn’t be more proud of her because I would hate to say that I didn’t anticipate this but it is a pleasant surprise how well she has handled all of it. The team leans on her, they know she has all of the experience. She is always there to answer questions from all of the rookies we have in the game.”
The team’s improvement on the field this year has pleasantly surprised Lano as well.
“They are growing faster than I expected,” asserted Lano. “Their interest is overwhelming. I am here a half hour to an hour after practice because they don’t want to leave. They want to stay, they want to learn, they want to get better, they are all inspired. They have a good idea now of what is in front of them and what is expected of them as far as themselves, their teammates, and the coaching staff. I really think that they are much more on task.”
For Alden, handling the task of playing three sports has helped her grow in many ways.
“It is fun to have those friends and get those connections,” said Alden, who is headed to Bucknell University where she is looking to play club field hockey and ice hockey.
“You learn a lot in sports. You can see a lot of life lessons and how that translates into the classroom and everyday life skills. I also think it is great to be a role model in your school and really show PDS colors through athletics. I know the Princeton University motto is education through athletics and I really stand true to that. I think it is fun to support your school and really show them what PDS is made out of.”