June 19, 2024

Earning a Spot on U.S. Field Hockey Team for Olympics, PU Star Yeager Looking to Make an Impact at Paris Games

STICKING WITH IT: Beth Yeager dribbles the ball upfield in action for the U.S. national field hockey team. Yeager, a rising junior for the Princeton University field hockey squad, was named last week to the 16-player roster for the national team that will compete at the Olympic Games in Paris that begin July 27. Yeager, who was the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2021 and 2022, took a year away from school to focus on making the U.S. squad for the Olympics. (Photo provided courtesy of USA Field Hockey)

By Justin Feil

Beth Yeager delayed her junior year at Princeton University for the opportunity to compete for a spot on the United States national field hockey team.

The night before the final team was to be posted on their training team’s app last week, Yeager was understandably nervous.

“It would be a bit strange if I wasn’t,” said Yeager. “I was definitely nervous. Like the night before, I really couldn’t fall asleep, and I woke up early that morning. I think everyone is. No matter if I had my position on the team, I would have been nervous just because it was my first Olympic selection and obviously it’s something that I’ve worked towards my whole field hockey career.”

Yeager was thrilled to be named June 12 to the 16-player roster for the national team that will compete at the Olympic Games in Paris that begin July 27.

“It’s been a year of really big growth for the team and for me as well,” Yeager said. “It was quite the whirlwind of emotions to even qualify and that was a special experience within itself. And then to make the team was just really, really special. When I read the list, I just felt really grateful and excited and relieved. Just all those emotions.”

Yeager was still in high school in Greenwich, Conn., when she drew an invitation to train with the national team. She continued to work with the U.S. squad through her first two seasons at Princeton in 2021 and 2022 while becoming the second field hockey player to be named Ivy Player of the Year in her first two college seasons.

“My Princeton coaches and my teammates were actually really supportive and helpful in encouraging me to join the national team, but also allowed me to still be a very active member of the Princeton team, so that really helped,” said Yeager, who tallied 16 goals and eight assists as a freshman and then scored 12 goals with eight assists as a sophomore. “And my U.S. coaches really did the same thing. They were very mindful about my commitments to Princeton from a field hockey perspective and an academic perspective and helped me balance both. I really wanted to be part of both environments. It was definitely difficult, but I think I did my best to try to make it work because I knew that it was something I really wanted to do.”

Following her sophomore year of school, however, Yeager determined that she would have to take a gap year in school if she wanted a chance to make the national team. United States Field Hockey asked all of its training team to commit to living and training together in Charlotte, N.C., beginning that summer.

“I really love Princeton, the team and also the academics and obviously it was tough leaving my friends,” said Yeager. “So Princeton definitely made it a really hard decision because I do love it there, but I think in other ways it was a little bit of an easy decision because I knew that this was the only way I could pursue my dream. I also knew that even if we didn’t qualify, it would just give me the opportunity to really push myself and become a better field hockey player and that’s obviously something I care about.”

Yeager still found a way to support her Princeton teammates in person when they took on UConn and Columbia this year. Otherwise, she has stayed in touch with them as best she can between their school and season and her training and international play.

“My teammates were super supportive and really nice about reaching out,” said Yeager. “You’re able to maintain a good connection, even though we’re obviously in different places and both very busy.”

Yeager is one of the younger players on the national team roster that has a mix of younger players like Yeager, who just played her 50th international match in May, and veterans that have been through the recent ups and downs of the U.S. field hockey program. The U.S. retooled its coaching staff multiple times and adjusted its training since it failed to qualify for the last Olympics, but Yeager has seen the benefits of the centralized training program in Charlotte and the staff led over the last year by head coach David Passmore.

“Our coaches and the team leaders have done a really good job of instilling a really, really strong team culture,” said Yeager. “I think we’ve kind of seen that prevail through these really stressful moments like at the Olympic Qualifier and even with the individual stress leading up to Olympic selection. I think in addition to getting quality training, that’s what’s really kind of propelled us a little bit.”

In January, a comeback win over Japan in the Olympic Qualifier sealed their 2024 Olympic berth at the expense of teams like New Zealand, whom they eliminated, and India, whom they put in a bad position and were eventually eliminated. The U.S. will be underdogs again in the Olympics, although they come off a confidence-building win over sixth-ranked Great Britain that ended their FIH (International Hockey Federation) Hockey Pro League play.

“That was our eighth game in like three weeks, and we had lost all the other ones, but we were able to put that aside and come out and not care,” said Yeager. “It’s actually like a team strength of ours to kind of rise to the occasion in these moments.”

Yeager will be making her first appearance in the Olympics. The U.S. will be in Pool B with Argentina, Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, and Spain. They open against Spain on July 29. Quarterfinal play begins August 5.

“Our goal, besides obviously medaling, would be to reach the quarterfinals,” said Yeager. “We have a lot of experience in being the underdog team and kind of beating the odds like we did to qualify. We beat and knocked out two teams in our pool that are both ranked above us to qualify. So I think as a team, we’ve been in that situation a lot and I think we kind of like thrive on that. We’re really good at using the underdog mentality to our advantage.”

Yeager is looking forward to the Olympic experience and taking another step in her field hockey career. She plays mostly midfield and some attack for the U.S., while Princeton has used her skills on the attack.

“You kind of take a different role on whatever team you’re on,” said Yeager. “My role from Princeton even in the two years I was there changed a bit. And I’m sure when I go back, it might be a little different. I guess I don’t really notice it that much. I think also because of growing up playing on a lot of teams — like a club team, high school team, and junior national team all simultaneously — I got used to just understanding that I might play a different role on one team versus the other.”

Yeager’s game has grown with each different experience that she has had. She helped Sacred Heart Greenwich to a historic win over Greenwich Academy in high school before training with the national team began. She came to Princeton and her game was challenged there in her first two seasons of college hockey under Princeton head coach Carla Tagliente and assistant coach Dina Rizzo.

“Obviously the college level’s so much faster than the high school level,” said Yeager. “I really learned a lot through that. I learned not just from the games, but in the practices I’ve technically developed a lot more as a player because of Dina and Carla’s coaching, which is obviously amazing. I think they really helped me to develop a lot more from a skill perspective, but also from a tactical perspective and also by competing against my teammates every day. I was put in a very competitive cauldron with all my teammates who are very talented field hockey players. I think that they pushed me to be able to develop a lot more.”

The past year has further progressed her game while competing at the highest level. Her skill level has improved, and she has gained a new perspective on the game from the U.S. coaches. The game at the highest level has challenged her in new ways.

“I’ve developed a lot more in terms of the mental side of the sport because I haven’t had an academic commitment and I’ve been fully into field hockey,” said Yeager. “I’ve kind of had to learn how to balance and manage the stress of that, especially competing into the Pan American Games and the Olympic Qualifier. I think I’ve grown a lot through those stressful moments and also learned in the day-to-day how to be a little bit more of a disciplined athlete. I think I always liked hard work, but I don’t think I understood how to work smartly rather than always working hard.”

There has been little time for anything else after long training days. Yeager has kept up with her Chinese language classes through an online course, but mostly she’s been focused on preparing each day to compete for a national team Olympic roster spot.

Yeager may have been nervous the night before, but all her sacrifices paid off when she found her name on the U.S. roster to compete in next month’s Paris Olympics. She will live out her dreams with the U.S. team in the biggest games of her career before returning to Princeton in the fall.

“I’m still focused on giving whatever I can to help the team succeed,” said Yeager.