By Jean DePlacido
---- — Nicole Woods never realized just how popular field hockey was until she went to the USA Field Hockey National Festival in Florida over Thanksgiving weekend. At that time, the Beverly High junior was undecided whether she wanted to play field hockey or ice hockey in college.
This week, she made a verbal commitment to play Division 1 field hockey at the University of Louisville and will receive a partial scholarship, with the opportunity to increase it each year.
“I had never seen the bigger world of field hockey until then,” said Woods, the reigning Salem News Field Hockey Player of the Year who played up a level on a 19-and-Under team at the festival. “Until then I only knew about the Northeastern Conference and my club team. In Florida there were 30 games going on at the same time, and all the coaches there knew my club coach. It was an amazing time.”
Woods, an NEC all-star and Panther captain this past season, finished the year with 11 goals and 21 assists. She also plays for the Northeast Elite club team coached by Chelsea Feole.
Woods and her older sister, Corinne, are the only two Beverly players in recent memory to move on to a Division 1 college field hockey program.
The Louisville Cardinals are leaving the Big East to go to the Atlantic Coast Conference, so Woods will be part of the first recruiting class playing in that conference.
“The biggest thing I noticed about the girls at Louisville was how nice they all were,” said Woods, who has a 3.2 grade-point average. “I toured with a few other girls and then stayed with the team. They had a 7-on-7 tournament, so I got to play on their field. The whole complex was beautiful.
“The head coach, Justine Sowry, is from Australia, and the first assistant (Lucas Piccioli) is from Venezuela, so I’m going to have to get used to their accents.”
At the National Festival, Woods didn’t talk to anyone from Louisville until the tournament ended.
“They told us to make our schedule available to schools we were interested in, but I really didn’t know who to give it to,” she said. “My coach had called Louisville and said she had a girl on her team she wanted them to check out, but they missed all my games. They wound up seeing films from every game I played in and reached out to me.”
Woods received an email and responded. She was still undecided during the Panthers terrific girls ice hockey season, but finally visited the Kentucky school last weekend.
“One of the major reasons why I chose field hockey is because of my size. I’m only 5-foot-1,” said Woods, who was also recruited by New Hampshire and Providence for field hockey, as well as St. Cloud State in Minnesota for ice hockey. “A lot of the girls playing ice hockey are very tall, and being my size that was a little intimidating.”
A natural scorer, Woods is extremely fast and highly skilled. She’s even better at setting up her teammates and averaged over an assist per game for the 16-1-1 NEC champion Panthers.
“It’s very exciting to have Nicole go to a Division 1 program,” said Beverly coach Tricia Brennan. “She has put in the time and effort to play at that level. This is a huge showing of her commitment to take it to the next level, and she’ll do great things there.
“Nicole’s biggest asset is her ability to play under any conditions. She’s really good on turf, and training and playing full-time all year has helped improve her game tremendously. She has been playing with some great players and has learned a lot. She is always trying to advance her skills, and that hard work paid off.”
Hoping to major in either education or pyschology, Woods admitted she’s glad the stress that comes with picking a college is over.
“Some of my friends that are seniors are still waiting to hear, but now I won’t have to go through that. I can enjoy my senior year and concentrate on playing for my club team,” she said. “We’ve got some fun things planned for this summer, and I intend to do a lot of lifting to get stronger.”