Intensity leads to diligence
EMU field-hockey star wraps up stellar career
Story by James De Boer
EMU sports: www.emu.edu
“Natural talent can only get an individual so far. The rest comes from heart, desire and the ‘want’ to be better and the dedication to put in work behind the scenes, in the offseason, and before and after practice.”
While that may sound like a motivational poster on a locker room wall somewhere, the words of Eastern Mennonite University field hockey coach Brenda Bechler actually describe the inner drive and perseverance of EMU senior Alyssa Derstine. She has pushed through changes of athletic position, changes of academic major, and a debilitating medical condition.
The paradox with Derstine, though, is that while she is a very intense and active person, her hunger to improve and push on has built her into a sturdy and even gentle leader.
“She leads by quiet example,” explained Dr. Sandy Brownscombe, who teaches Derstine in EMU’s education department. “She works very hard and is very diligent and people follow her because of her excellence. She also wants others to do well, so she encourages them.”
After graduating from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale, Pa., in 2006, Derstine essentially chose Eastern Mennonite because her parents graduated from the school in the early 1980s. (Her father, Douglas Derstine ’82, played soccer at EMU and her mother, Sally Landis Derstine ’82, played field hockey and had Brownscombe as her coach; Sally Derstine also coached Bechler on Christopher Dock’s junior varsity team.) Alyssa Derstine came to Harrisonburg, Va., thinking she would major in physical therapy and playing defense on the hockey field. But the changes came quickly.
Because of her love of children, Derstine declared her major as physical education. And as an athlete, the freshman was not a starter but became the “super sub” utility player.
“As a utility player you have to have the knowledge AND the skill to be able to play any position,” Coach Bechler said. “We would put Alyssa in and she would make an immediate impact. In her first few games, we would score within a few minutes of Alyssa entering the game. She was not necessarily the one scoring all the goals, but her energy, skill level and connectedness to the rest of the team helped them rise to their best as well.”
Derstine managed the athletic transition well, learning to score and the other nuances of the offensive end of the game. As a sophomore, she started as the center forward for the Lady Royals – a huge step after playing defense in high school.
But in the offseason following that sophomore campaign, Derstine’s intensity ended up hurting her. The more she ran for conditioning, the more her shins would tingle and then hurt. By that summer, Derstine said it felt like there was pressure building up inside her legs. She was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, a condition where the inflexible fascia which encases her leg muscles was too pressure-filled.
Since the condition was discovered so close to her junior season, Derstine decided to put off surgery and play the season in pain. The decision obviously affected how her legs felt, but also her stamina.
“During my junior year I had to watch where I expended my energy,” Derstine said. “I had to figure out if I should recover (after a turnover) or wait for the ball to come back.”
Even with the physical hampering, Derstine played well enough to be named Old Dominion Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year. She had surgery on the fascia shortly after the season and rehabbed her way back into shape by her senior campaign when she was again named ODAC Player of the Year, this time as a midfielder. Derstine said dealing with compartment syndrome helped her manage her intensity.
“It showed me that sometimes too much can be bad,” she said. “I’ve been told that I’m an intense person, not just in sports but in all of life. I took it that I should tone it down sometimes and not go over the top.”
Bechler also pointed to Derstine’s emotional growth during her four seasons.
“She is an intense player,” Bechler said, “which is good. But her temper got in her way a number of times (her freshman year) and she would get frustrated with opposing players, officials, herself, etc. She worked hard over her four years to overcome that challenge and channel those emotions.”
That diligence is now a trademark for the EMU senior.
“I’ve learned that hard work pays off,” Derstine commented. “I’ve seen that on an individual level and a team level. I’ve also seen the importance of teammates and communication with the team.”
Bechler spoke of the joy of working with student athletes like Derstine.
“It is always fun to coach someone with such a passion and love for the sport and work ethic and dedication to put in the extra work,” Bechler said. “Not only does Alyssa work hard on the field, but she brings that same intensity to the classroom and she wants to share her love of fitness and activity with children.”
Brownscombe, who additionally gave Derstine pointers on playing offense in field hockey, also highlighted her work ethic.
“She has grown from a quiet, reserved student who wasn’t sure she wanted to be a physical education major when she got here to a confident student who is a leader and very respected among her peers,” said Brownscombe. “She’s been willing to do whatever was asked on the field and her willingness to go back and play midfield as a senior and not complain is a rare quality.”
Even though Derstine will leave Eastern Mennonite as a two-time ODAC player of the year, two-time second team All-American, and on the EMU leader boards for career goals, assists and points, she mentions her role as a student as a defining one.
“I feel like I would have been a completely different person (if I had chosen a different college),” Derstine said. “I love the education department at EMU and I feel like I’ve learned so much information. I don’t know if I would have gone somewhere else that I would have felt so prepared for my future.”
Knowing that Derstine will approach her future with the same intensity she learned to the channel over the past four years, there is little doubt she is indeed prepared for whatever lies ahead.