Inside Stories

‘Dutchies’ help UML Field Hockey Reach Conference Championship

The nationally ranked UML field hockey team includes seven players from the Netherlands: from left, sophomore midfielder Meike Vischer, sophomore forward Isabelle Halters, senior back Alissia de Vries, fifth-year midfielder Berbel Rozema, senior midfielder Mirthe Gans, freshman midfielder Florine Gerrits and freshman goalkeeper Marie Oliemans (Photo Courtesy UMass Lowell)

“Je hebt goed gespeeld.”

UMass Lowell field hockey player Alissia de Vries heard the Dutch phrase, meaning “You played well,” from an opponent after scoring a goal in the River Hawks’ recent 3-0 win over Northeastern University.

It’s not unusual for de Vries, who is from The Hague, Netherlands, to hear her native language spoken on the field hockey pitch: The senior tri-captain is one of seven Dutch players on the roster this season, and there are scores of Netherlands natives playing collegiately across the country.

“Being far away from home, it’s really nice to know there’s other girls on the team that have the same story as you and speak your language,” said de Vries, a biomedical engineering major who was named to the America East Conference’s All-Academic Team last season.

UMass Lowell’s six other “Dutchies,” as they call themselves, are graduate student Berbel Rozema ’23, senior tri-captain Mirthe Gans, sophomores Meike Vischer and Isabelle Halters, and first-year students Marie Oliemans and Florine Gerrits.

Senior midfielder Mirthe Gans looks to pass against Northeastern as her teammates look on from the sideline (Photo courtesy Ed Brennan)

They comprise nearly one-third of a team that is off to the program’s best start at the Division I level. A 3-0 win over Stanford Sunday saw the squad named co-champions of the America East Conference, the first such title in the program’s history. Ranked No. 18 in the nation, UMass Lowell tied for first in league play with UAlbany and finished out their season 14-3, a DI program record.

“We’re in a really good place right now,” said Coach Shannon LeBlanc ’98, who led the River Hawks to DII national championships in 2005 and 2010. “We have great leadership from our seniors and fifth-years, and our younger players really came prepared this season.”


LeBlanc began recruiting international players when the program jumped to DI in 2013. She started in Australia and Belgium before turning to the Netherlands, where field hockey trails only soccer in popularity and many kids pick up a stick by age 6. They typically play on the same water-based artificial turf (which is dampened by sprinklers to allow for faster play) used in NCAA competition.

“Because they’ve been playing for so long on the proper surface, they usually come in more prepared for the collegiate game than American players,” said LeBlanc, who made goaltender Eva Berkhout ’20 her first Dutch recruit in 2016.

LeBlanc has since traveled to the Netherlands three times to attend showcase tournaments put on by recruiting agencies that match international athletes with college programs in the U.S.
That’s how she met Rozema, a midfielder from Rotterdam who was named to the America East All-Rookie Team in 2019.

“All my life, I thought I would be going to college in the Netherlands, but I talked to Shannon after the showcase and it was a great match from the start. We had the same vision,” said Rozema, who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology last spring and is now pursuing an MBA.

Freshman goalkeeper Marie Oliemans, who is from Driebergen, Netherlands, gets a high-five from teammate Maxine Van Havere, who is from Wilrijk, Belgium. Oliemans was named America East Defensive Player of the Week in mid-September (Photo courtesy UMass Lowell Athletics)


LeBlanc helps integrate international players into the team by having them live with U.S.-born teammates, who can help them get acclimated to Lowell and invite them home for holidays.
“They are truly immersed in American culture, and our Americans get to experience living with people from a different country,” said LeBlanc, whose team also includes junior Maxine Van Havere of Belgium. Gans, a midfielder from the Dutch town of Tiel, agrees.

“Everyone is learning from each other, which is really cool to see,” said Gans, a psychology major who was named America East Second Team last season.

Senior tri-captain Alissia de Vries unleashes a shot (Photo courtesy UMass Lowell Athletics)

If the Dutchies ever feel homesick, they know where to turn. “You always have your own customs from home that you can share with each other,” said Rozema, who notes that on the Dutch national holiday of King’s Day, on April 27, they wear orange, their national color.

De Vries considers herself a team “mom” to younger players. “It’s nice being able to talk to your Dutch girls, especially during your sophomore year when school gets harder and the pressure is a little higher,” she said.

Gerrits, a first-year midfielder and computer science major from Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam, values the guidance.

“This is a big place, and I have to get used to so many things,” she said. “It’s nice to be part of a team so I don’t have to figure everything out myself.”

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