It’s rare to find an athlete who is versatile enough to play multiple positions on the field equally well. It’s also rare for an international student-athlete to arrive and immediately make a huge impact on team that’s having a historically successful season.
In freshman forward Bente van Vlijmen, you find both qualities.
As the Ivy League Rookie of the Year with eight goals and 16 points under belt, van Vlijmen wasted no time getting down to business when she flew across the pond to join Harvard. No Crimson player had won that individual honor since 2002. Van Vlijmen earned the award unanimously.
“Bente has been fantastic,” coach Tjerk van Herwaarden said. “One thing that I really like from Bente is that she is able to make the whole entire team play with more intensity and higher energy. She doesn’t shy back when she needs to step up when you need her most…. If you want to be successful as a team, you really need an athlete like that on your side.”
Time and time again, van Vlijmen delivered in key conference games. Her first college scores came in a 2-0 victory over rivals Yale a few weeks into the start of the season. It took van Vlijmen only 31 seconds to find the back of the Bulldogs’ net. She wove the ball through the Yale defense and finished with a backhand slice. Twenty-six minutes, she proceeded to do it all over again with a successful penalty corner play.
Other highlights of van Vlijmen’s short yet fruitful Harvard career include her lone goal in a 1-0 win over competitors Boston University and her first career hat trick against Dartmouth during the program’s final moments campaigning for the Ivy League Championship.
On the Crimson’s roster, only senior Marissa Balleza tallied more scores. And the rookie posted a Harvard-best shooting percentage of .195 for all players with more than one goal.
"She's just an incredible force. Bente is probably the strongest field hockey player I've ever seen," senior forward Clare McClintock said.
Alongside her personal achievements, van Vlijmen has participated in one of the most successful seasons in program history. The Crimson garnered historic wins over Penn and Princeton and most importantly, recaptured the Ivy League Championship for the first time since 2004.
“Personally, I tried to focus on positively stimulating others since we needed confidence to capitalize on our team’s talent,” van Vlijmen said. “I think that everyone did a great job supporting each other, and that is why the team started breaking record after record. Every individual player on the team has had a huge impact on this season, each in different ways.”
However, it is not only the front line where van Vlijmen has showed her athleticism. When a fellow teammate had to reduce playing time because of an injury, van Vlijmen made a smooth transition. She moved from center forward and center back, proving to be an invaluable player on both the offensive and defensive end.
“She’s just an incredible force,” senior forward Clare McClintock said. “Bene is probably the strongest field hockey player I’ve ever seen. Anytime we’ve needed a goal, you just throw her up the front line. I’ve never played anyone who’s that phenomenal.”
With one-third of the team graduating in the senior class, van Vlijmen and the new incoming freshmen have big shoes to fill. But she has consistently proved that youth and status as a freshman have no indicator on the power and impact an athlete can have on the field.
“[The seniors] will be missed incredibly, and it’s absolutely impossible to fill their shoes,” van Vlijmen said. “However, I’m convinced that Harvard Field Hockey is going to be very strong in the coming years. I think the fact that I’ve been chosen [for Rookie of the Year] shows the enormous steps we’ve taken as a team and the extent we’ve shocked others with our improvements and victories. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.”
—Staff writer Amanda X. Fang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.