That “Familie” Feeling – Lehigh University Athletics
Creator: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications
This fall, Lehigh’s field hockey roster will consist of four Dutch nationals.
While Lenke Havas was the first in program history four years ago, the pipeline is as strong today as it has ever been. It’s a pipeline that even weathered a pandemic – evidence of Lehigh and the field hockey program.
Havas (Maastricht) is returning this autumn for her fifth year as she is enrolling in a graduate school. Junior Sarah Bonthuis (Oud-Beijerland), runner-up Lotte Smorenburg (Rotterdam) and first grader Guusje Hogendoorn (Apeldoorn) are also at home in the Netherlands. How did you find Lehigh?
Their stories are similar in some ways, but different in others.
“Every Dutch student who wants to study in the US joins an agency in the Netherlands,” said Havas. “The agency is responsible for matching you with different universities. I had to put together a video of myself playing in and take the SAT test and the TOEFL test, an international test for English.”
From there, the agency created a profile of Havas that was sent to various college coaches in the United States.
“Then it’s basically just a waiting game to see what coaches achieve and are interested in having you on their team,” said Havas. “I had six or seven schools that said they could have a place for me.
“Lehigh was one of the first schools to show interest.”
The Mountain Hawks’ recruiting philosophy in the Netherlands is evolving, as is the case with all student athletes.
“We strive to find those who not only fit our culture, but also work to improve it,” said Lehigh boss Caitlin Dallmeyer. “It takes a lot of work to find a student-athlete who is willing to look closely at our program and choose not only to see the potential growth of the program, but also to be the growth of the program.”
Havas was so drawn to Lehigh for precisely this reason – the influence she could have on the path of a rebuilding program (something she certainly did).
“The decision for Lehigh wasn’t too difficult because the Skype conversations with Coach sounded very appealing,” said Havas. “It felt like it was for a bigger picture … something bigger than myself. Lots of other conversations [with other schools] mentions that one expects to become champions every season. What I liked about Lehigh was that there was so much room to grow and so much room to develop a better program. “
From the start, Havas planned to make a decision entirely virtually – relying heavily on long and thorough discussions with college coaches.
“It was mostly the Lehigh coaching staff who told me about the campus, the team and the culture,” she said. “I’ve also done that with other schools. At some point you get a few offers for schools and it’s time to make a decision.”
Two years after Havas, Bonthuis found itself in a similar situation – it went through an agency to promote its name in Division I field hockey programs in the United States.
The only but significant difference for Bonthuis is that she decided to visit.
“In November of my senior year in high school, my father and I went to schools so I could see the campus, the surrounding area, and the people,” said Sarah. “I had to make a decision within a week. When I flew back my dad and I had seven hours so I made a list of all the pros and cons.
“When we arrived in Amsterdam, the decision had been made.”
Lehigh appeals to aspiring student athletes in many ways. Havas confidently chose Lehigh virtually, while Bonthuis also opted for Lehigh after a personal visit.
“The campus is beautiful,” said Bonthuis. “When I left, I could see myself walking there [next year]. “
During her visit, Bonthuis only met the two Dutch players from the team at the time – Havas, together with Sofie Meijlink (from De Bilt).
“I was sold,” said Bonthuis. “Lehigh was the place I had to go.”
Compared to Havas’ virtual recruiting, the Bonthuis experience was a different path to the same result.
“Sarah was on a tour of US schools, so we met her and her family and looked into her,” said Dallmeyer. “We then planned a recruiting trip to the Netherlands and were able to see them again in their own gaming environment, which was a great experience for us.”
The similarities and differences in recruiting Havas and Bonthuis are a real example of the unique process of recruiting from the Netherlands.
“Every day we receive several profiles from different agencies that highlight international athletes who want to come to the US,” said Dallmeyer. “We sort them out and find the academically qualified student-athletes first, then we evaluate Game Film. Game Film can be tricky because it’s easy to just show your strengths and hide your weaknesses by leaving them out.
“You can’t get a realistic picture of an athlete from a few film clips, so the process involves a great deal of risk. We had to base our decision on bringing Lenke to Lehigh outside of the movie, reference checks and Skypes calls (now Zoom calls). “
For Bonthuis it certainly helped to have Havas from their own country and culture on the list. And with Sarah’s decision to come to Lehigh came a momentum that led Smorenburg and Hogendoorn to follow in her footsteps for the next two years.
Due to the dynamism, a mentor from the Netherlands is now waiting on campus (for everyone except Havas, as she was the first).
“During my first week in the US, Lenke had the strongest mentoring role for me,” said Bonthuis. “She also helped a lot with the preparation, we met in the summer [heading into my first year] And she went through the run test and what I had to pack. She sent me this whole list of things I shouldn’t forget to bring. “
When Bonthuis arrived on campus for the preseason, she had a good transition. But still, it can be scary to be so far from home.
This is where Havas’ mentoring came into play.
“I slept in her room for the first week of the preseason,” said Bonthuis. “She said whenever you want to talk about something, just talk to me. We can have our conversations in Dutch during the night, because you will surely have to miss that with your family.
“She was incredibly there for me.”
The language barrier for the Dutch is a bit of a challenge, but not that bad as English is taught at a young age in the Netherlands.
“Everyone in the Netherlands speaks Dutch, but because nobody else in the world speaks it, we have to learn different languages,” said Bonthuis. “Since English is the number one language in the world, we start learning English very early.”
Bonthuis was in middle school when she started taking formal English classes.
“I did bilingual education in high school, so I had six years of bilingual education (high school starts at age 12 in the Netherlands), which helped me a lot,” said Bonthuis. “When I came to the United States, I was really good at educational English; I knew what everyone was saying in my class. I had to figure out how to communicate in the field, but I learned that within two weeks.
“You start talking to your teammates and your friends and it happens without you even knowing it.”
With the addition of Smorenburg, Sarah’s role was reversed.
“Sarah did a great job at Lotte,” said Havas. “I was needed a lot less. I definitely hope it stays that way in the future; it’s a great opportunity to be a mentor as an older person. It’s also great for the newcomer to have this anchor on the team, who can see things. ” from their perspective.
“I hope it continues like this and I think it will. Hopefully Lotte will pass it on to Guusje and Guusje will pass it on to the next one.”
It says a lot about Lehigh and the people at Lehigh that the Dutch pipeline is only getting stronger amid a pandemic (a time when it’s only natural to be afraid to travel far from home). A big reason for this is the coaching team, who take great care of their student-athletes as people.
“[In March of 2020]”I decided to go home right after the spring break and it turned out to be the right decision,” Havas said, referring to Lehigh initially announcing a two-week closure before moving on to the rest of the semester quickly when the severity of the pandemic became clearer. ”I felt really supported by the team and the coaches. They were on the side of going home and saying that if I didn’t make it on time, it would be okay. That this situation was probably better to be at home.
“You were absolutely right.”
Havas felt supported in every decision she made.
“It wasn’t that hard to make the decision to go home because I knew they supported and understood that,” she said.
Similar thoughts went through Bonthuis, who had started the spring break in San Francisco before returning to campus after the news broke.
“I spoke to my father on the phone and he thought it wouldn’t be over in two weeks,” said Sarah. “I just want to be home during crazy times like these, so I texted Coach straight away to say I was going home. She said it was a wise decision and she just wanted me to be safe and at home with loved ones.
“The coach was so supportive of us throughout this entire stretch – even when I said that I would like to stay away for the fall semester (2020),” Bonthuis continued. “It felt like you couldn’t make the wrong decision.
“You have to do what is best for you and something that is good for you – both mentally and physically.”
College is an opportunity to grow in many ways, and Lehigh provides this environment for all of its student-athletes. Lehigh’s reputation is growing in the field hockey community, not just domestically but internationally.
“In the past two years, I’ve had a lot of girls who know me, see me on Instagram, or know my mom or dad, and say they are thinking about going to the US and ask what I recommend . ” said Bonthuis. “The first thing I say is Do it. It’s honestly one of the best things that happened to me. Being in Lehigh every day I tell myself, wow, this is such an adventure.
“I’m so happy to be able to go through this with a great team that feels like family.”