New Country, Same Sport
Oct. 8, 2007
The Indiana field hockey team brings together some of the best players from all across the country to compete in one of the most competitive conferences in the country, the Big Ten. The 2007 roster includes players from California, Maryland, Missouri and North Carolina just to name a few. This year, the team can add Harare, Zimbabwe, to its list of hometowns.
Freshman back Mutsa Mutembwa (pronounced MUTTS-uh Moo-TEM-bwa) made the trek from Zimbabwe, a country located in the southern half of Africa, to join the Hoosiers and play the game she started playing when she was eight years old.
"In my country, the junior schools require you to play a sport and I chose field hockey," Mutembwa explained. "Tennis was the sport I played first, but I enjoyed the camaraderie of team sports so much more, so I chose field hockey. I played for two years and then I stopped until I went to high school. Then I started playing again when I was 15."
Nearly every high school in Zimbabwe has a field hockey team, and they are broken down in to different divisions in each region. At the end of the season, the top teams in each division come together for the Golden Girls tournament and it is at this tournament that much of the recruiting takes place for the national teams.
"Usually, players have to be at least 17- or 18-years old or in their junior or senior year of high school to make the national teams," Mutembwa said. "I was chosen my freshman year, allowing me to have at least four years of experience at the national level. So by the time I was a senior, I had the opportunity to play internationally."
"I started to get some attention while I was playing with the national team, so I began applying to schools here," Mutembwa recalls. "And I guess some of the coaches started talking about me and my name made it (Indiana head coach) Amy Robertson and that's how I got here."
"One of my former assistant coaches, Gina Lucido, is an assistant at Richmond now and she gave me the heads up on Mutsa," Robertson said about how she first heard of her. "She had been accepted to Richmond so we knew she had to be a great student. As things worked out, Richmond didn't have a scholarship to offer, so Gina told me about her and sent me a video. I got in contact with Mutsa and she was very quick to respond."
For some people it would be a very daunting task to up and move to another country for four years, but this is not the first time she has traveled to another country, let alone another continent.
"I was born in South Africa," Mutembwa said, "and then I moved to England and then we moved to Denmark. So I have had quite a bit of the European life and I wanted to change that for a bit and America was the natural choice for me."
The team began official practice on August 8 and Mutembwa was on campus the next day following a flight that took almost 20 hours to cover the more than 8,400 miles between Harare, Zimbabwe and Bloomington, Indiana. And it's not like she was taking a day off before she left her hometown, she was competing in the All-Africa Games, an Olympic qualifying event for African countries. Her team hit its stride a little too late and finished fifth out of the eight teams at the tournament.
"I was pretty burned out by the time I got to Indiana," Mutembwa says about her arrival to Bloomington. "I had been playing so much field hockey with the national team in Zimbabwe. The coaches here realized that and they gave me time. I didn't need much time, just a week or two, and now I am right back in the swing of things."
When asked how important her teammates have been in helping her make the transition to IU, it is hard for her to put it into words.
"If it wasn't for them, I think I would have run away by now," she said with a smile. "My teammates have been the biggest part if it all. They helped me get settled and they showed me around and have done a lot of other things to help out. They have been like my family away from home. But I still talk to my mother on the phone at least twice a week and she sends me emails every day."
A little over half way through her first season with the Hoosiers, Mutembwa doesn't see much of a difference in the way the game is played here in the U.S. and in Zimbabwe. She says the coaches at the collegiate level are one of the biggest reasons why American field hockey is so inviting for those outside the country.
"In Zimbabwe, it is hard to find very many good coaches, whereas here in the United States, each college coach has national team experience and have gone through various training and coaching programs."
"There is so much more talent in Zimbabwe," she continues, "only because it is a bigger sport in the southern hemisphere, but there is not much organization. Here, they take a great deal of time with the fitness and the technical aspect of the game. (In the U.S.) Everything is more organized and more precise, and laid out for the teams very well."
One of seven Hoosiers to start every game this season, Mutembwa has obviously caught the attention of the coaching staff and is grateful for the opportunities they gave given her so early in her career.
"I am in the starting lineup every game," Mutembwa said, "which is a real confidence booster. It shows that they believe in you and they are always willing to help."
"She came to the team very mature and extremely coachable," Robertson said. "In such a short amount of time, she has adjusted very well to the her new surroundings. She has been an absolute delight to have on the team and our coaching staff is looking forward to three more years to share in her development."
Mutembwa is double majoring in math and economics with a minor in business, as if she didn't have enough to learn already.
"It sounds like a lot of work," she says, "but I am up for it. Everyone knows that athletes are very disciplined people, so that gives me an edge I think. I am a very competitive person and like to stay ahead of things."
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