COLLINS SMYTH RETURNS HOME TO IRELAND FOR FIELD HOCKEY COMPETITION

DURHAM, N.H. -- Many University of New Hampshire students were counting down the days to March 12, the last day of classes before Spring Break. Kate Collins Smyth had travel plans, but hers differed from the norm. Collins Smith returned to her homeland of Ireland – she hails from Parteen, County Claire – to compete in The Interprovincial Tournament.

That annual event, commonly known there as the Interpro's, features the nation's best field hockey players and gives players a chance to be evaluated by the National Team coaches. And for Collins Smyth, it's a rare opportunity.

"I get to back and perform on a national event," Collins Smyth stated. "Being over here (UNH), I can't get selected for the national camp. That's why I wanted to have this opportunity to play in front of the national coaches."

Collins Smith, who in years past competed on the Under-16, Under-18, Under-21 and Senior Women teams – she missed last year's Interpro's because initially the pitch was frozen over and later because she was sidelined due to injury, practiced with both the U-21 and Senior Women teams and played on the U-21 squad for Munster in the 2010 tourney, a three-game round robin held March 27-28.

The 20-year-old sophomore, a two-time letterwinner with the UNH field hockey team, was named to the America East Academic Honor Roll in both 2008 and 2009 as well as the America East All-Rookie Team in '08. She patrols the midfield for the Wildcats. All of it.

"Here, the three midfielders are continuously rotating, depending on the defensive matchup," Collins Smyth said.

She also plays midfield for Munster. More specifically, center midfield. A defined difference she realized during that fortnight.

"I didn't move out of the midfield once. I was reading the play and said 'switch' to one of the players once and she just looked at me like 'Huh?' So I just stayed at center mid the rest of the time.

"There, you're just a line of defense," she added. "The defense in the backfield just hits the big ball to the forwards and you don't really contribute to the offense. At Munster, it's old-school hockey."

Other provinces do play a style more similar to that in the collegiate game, including UNH.

"You're a lot more involved in the game. You move the ball from the back to the mid to the back to the mid. You work the ball around to set up an attack. You don't just hit the ball. It's a passing, fluid game. There's thinking and tactical strategy."

And there's also strength training.

"In all my years I didn't lift. I got over here and coach told me to do a squat and I was like 'Huh?' I didn't even know what a bench press was."

Times have changed for Collins Smyth, who has been playing field hockey from September through April since the age of eight.

"In the first practice (with Munster), I went in for a tackle and toppled the girl. I apologized, but it was a good play. A clean play. And then on the next tackle I sent another girl about flying. I was thinking to myself 'If only coach (Balducci) could see me now.'"

But Collins Smyth also appreciated playing hockey back in Ireland, where she was the only one (of 61 players) in the Under-21tourney who is currently playing collegiately in the U.S.

"Sport is really social. At the end of the game, the teams tailgate together. It was good to play with old friends again."

It also provided a break from the every day regimen at UNH, where seemingly her entire day is planned for her. Back in Ireland, outside of the scheduled practice she dictated the time for strength and conditioning workouts and other means to hone her game.

Now she's back in Durham with her new friends preparing for UNH's spring season.

"I've benefitted a lot from coming over here," Collins Smyth stated. "I wasn't sure when I first went home if I would be an improved player. Now I know I am. I have more knowledge. I have learned a lot from Robin – and from Steve. They both know so much about the game and I just want to keep learning."

Learning enough to become a member of Ireland's National Team.

"You could call that an aspiration or dream. I definitely hope to get back into it. While I'm here, it's just not realistic. When I get back, I'll only be 22. But I could also see myself staying over here trying to become a Division I coach."

That future is on the horizon. A horizon with the Atlantic Ocean either to the west or east.

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