This week, LEAP Worldwide had the chance to have a Q&A session with Dominique Masters, an English-born hockey player who is currently a student-athlete at Northwestern University in the United States. Dominique has traveled all over the world to compete, and has some especially amazing insight on university-level recruitment and playing style in the US. Keep reading and you’ll learn why Dominique is so glad she took the LEAP, and why she thinks you should, too.
Q: Can you tell us about your playing experiences thus far?
A: I started playing at Canterbury at the age of 7 and played with them through to the age of 18. I played on the U16 and U18 England squad and played against Ireland and travelled to Germany to play them. On my school U13 team I toured to France, Holland and Belgium and with the U18 team, I travelled to Sydney, Australia for a tour. With the Canterbury U18 team, I travelled three times to play in The Hague tournament in Holland where we played against other European teams. Then in 2013 I flew to the US and since then, I have played on the Northwestern field hockey team.
Q: What expectations or stereotypes did you have coming to play hockey in the US? What have you found to be true?
A: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to play in the US. I had never been before and so every experience was very new. I did expect the game to be much more physical, which it was. There is definitely more emphasis on physicality at this level compared with back home. Personally, I didn’t think it would be as big at the college level as I have found it to be; the marketing and broadcasting is out of this world here.
Q: How did you get connected with Northwestern? What was the recruitment process like?
A: My high school coach called me into her office one day and asked me “Have you ever thought about playing hockey in the USA?”. I was shocked because the thought had never crossed my mind! The Northwestern head coach Tracey Fuchs and my high school Coach Susan Wessels had known each other through National field hockey and so their connection had opened up a door for me. The assistant coach Zoe Almquist came to watch me play at a school tournament and I visited Northwestern in the fall of my senior year. Northwestern was actually the only University that I looked at and I couldn’t be happier! The process itself went very quickly, I signed early the following February and before I knew it I was heading on the plane for preseason training! I owe everything to my high school coach, who will always be my inspiration, she saw something in me when I did not believe it was there and helped me reach this new and exciting goal!
Q: Are there any rules/tactics regarding the recruitment process you’ve found interesting that foreigners coming over to the US should be sure to know about?
A: There are many rules about recruiting that can be a little confusing and daunting at first but the experience of the coaches will help athletes to figure this out. The most wonderful aspect I have found is that I never once felt alone during my recruitment.
Q: What has your overall experience as an NCAA field hockey player at Northwestern been like?
A: Becoming a Division 1 student-athlete was not always rainbows and smiles, this has by far been the most challenging experience I have been a part of. However, I definitely lucked out with the support system that I had. It extended further than the team and my coaches who created the base of my support. In addition, I had advisors and other members of the athletic department on hand to help me through not only my athletic challenges but also but academic and future plans. In 2013, we won the Big Ten conference and in 2014 we won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time. We made an NCAA appearance that year as well but unfortunately lost in the first round against Duke. In 2015 and 2016 we managed to make it through the semi-final of the Big Ten tournament but missed out on the finals in overtime both years.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories so far from your time at NU?
A: I have two playing memory that stand out for me at Northwestern. The first has to be the Big Ten Tournament in Michigan in 2014. It was not just the fact that we had made history and won the tournament but it was also the journey to the final. We played Iowa in the quarter final and Michigan in the semifinal. The Iowa game was particularly special because of the ‘curse’ that had supposedly developed for our team over the previous years of not making it through the first round. We celebrated that game as our tournament win. The Michigan game was also very exciting because we went into overtime with them and after a video review that seemed to last a lifetime, we had made it to the final. There was something so special about the game against Maryland that I can’t really put into words and I think if you ask my other teammates they will also struggle to do so. Something just clicked that day and it was something I wasn’t sure would be repeated. That was until the 2016 season where I had my other favourite memory. We had Maryland and Penn State at home on one weekend. It was a weekend that everyone was anticipating to be a memorable one. Both are top 10 teams in the nation and always positive rivals for us. We came away that weekend with two wins and moved up to the highest ranking I had ever been a part of. Again, something just clicked for us that day and I realised how proud I was to be a part of it.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the best team tradition at NU?
A: The best team tradition that we have is theme day that we have during pre-season. We are split into teams and each team then dresses up, performs a skit and then compete against each other in many different games, the watermelon eating contest being a highlight for sure. It’s a great way to welcome in the freshmen class and relax a little bit on a summer day during a rigorous pre-season training.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about NU in general?
A: My favourite thing about Northwestern has to be the campus and its location. The campus has a mix of beautiful old and modern buildings and is set on Lake Michigan which actually feels more like you’re by the ocean! (It’s over 100 miles across!). The field is also located right on the lake front so I get to hang out there pretty much every day. Plus, on a clear day, you can see the Chicago skyline which always makes for a good Instagram shot!
Q: How would you compare playing in the Big 10 to playing club back in England?
A: It really is a different game out her to playing club back home but that does not mean that one is better than the other. The sport is constantly changing all over the world and it’s just a fantastic feeling to be a part of it.
Q: What did you find most shocking about hockey in the US?
A: One thing that gave me a little bit of a shock was overtime. This is something that was completely foreign to me at first. If there is a tie at the end of the game you will play two sets of overtime until someone scores a goal (essentially golden goal back home in England!). Not only that but play 6 outfield players and a goalie. It is one of the hardest and most exciting elements of the game in the US, which has definitely resulted in some pretty amazing results.
Q: How do you feel leaving your home country to play hockey has impacted your life?
A: It was an adjustment leaving home for sure. I never planned on leaving the UK but I think that moving to the US helped me become much more independent (but not too much). I also think that I have been able to experience so much more over here than I would have at home. I was unsure of where I was going to study back home and even more so where and if I would keep playing. I have learned new skills both on and off the field in addition to gaining more confidence in myself. When I visited Northwestern I was taken back by the team culture and the chemistry, the coaching staff and I just had a feeling this was an opportunity I could not overlook
Q: Do you have any funny stories or mix-ups about the culture or hockey differences in the US to England?
A: I never thought is possible but my first year in the US I felt like I was separated by a common language. I couldn’t even count the number of blank looks I was given when asking where the ‘loo’ (restroom) was, or the ‘bin’ (trash can), or when I asked a friend to grab my ‘jumper’ (sweater). Also, almost every time I meet an American for the first time I am asked: “Are you from Australia?”. The biggest difference in terms of hockey was the obvious difference in the name of the sport. It has been a little bit of an adjustment for me to refer to ‘hockey’ as ‘field hockey’. Many American’s I have met, especially in Illinois, are still unfamiliar with what field hockey is. What is amazing is explaining to them that we water a field that doesn’t grow! It is changing, though. The sport is becoming a lot more popular over here and I now get a lot of people telling me that they watched field hockey during the Olympics and loved it!
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is deciding whether or not they should pursue an opportunity to become a student-athlete in the US?
A: If someone asked me if they should pursue an opportunity to be a student-athlete in the US I would tell them to do two things. 1) DO IT and 2) Do your research. I was lucky that I didn’t have to look past Northwestern at any other schools but I think it is important for people looking to move to the US to look at what they want at the university. It’s important to decide on the size of the school, the location, the programs offered and then to meet the coaches and take a look for yourself. I would also say you don’t have to pursue an undergraduate degree, there are also options for a graduate program which you can complete in a year if you do not want to go for all four years. In the end, you are going to be a student athlete. It is not just about playing the sport, but also obtaining a degree and the beauty of it is that both will lead you to the adventure of a lifetime in addition to preparing you for your next steps in life.
Q: Is there anything you would change about your abroad experience if you had the chance? Why do you think people should play overseas?
A: I’m not sure I would change anything about coming to play and study abroad. There are many things I could have done differently and I’ve made mistakes, that’s for sure, but if I hadn’t made those mistakes then I would not have ended up where I am today. That sounds corny to say but it’s true! I spent a lot of my time worrying about things I couldn’t control and I found that I became so much happier when I let go of those things. I think if you are looking for an adventure, a degree and the opportunity to play for four years at an elite level then there is no reason why you should not become a student-athlete in the USA.
Q: What excites you about the LEAP Worldwide platform?
A: When I met Ainsley in November the idea of LEAP just seemed so perfect and so easy! Why would we not use the technology we have to connect each other with other players across the world? It really is more about who you know than what you know and I think what is so exciting about LEAP is that people want to help and share their experiences. It brings people from different countries and cultures together and forges lifelong friendships and memories. I have made a LEAP profile because even though my playing career is going to be put on hold I hope to one day play abroad again. This sport has taught me all that I know and I know I am not ready to let go.
Q: You mention that your playing career is going to be on hold for a bit. What’s next for you?
A: I am going to be spending the next two years at St. Louis University as a graduate assistant field hockey coach and pursuing Masters in Student Personnel Administration. This is an exciting next LEAP for me because I will be taking up a new role in the hopes of giving back what has been given to me. I use my experience being a student athlete to help the team at SLU to reach both their individual and team goals!
As Dominque indicated throughout her talk with us, the amazing memories players get from their time overseas lasts a lifetime, and LEAP Worldwide is passionate about ensuring that you get to experience these invaluable abroad opportunities too! It was such a pleasure getting to hear Dominique talk about the amazing experience she’s had the past four years at Northwestern, and we wish her best of luck in her next LEAP to St. Louis! Sign up with LEAP Worldwide and start planning your adventure today!