Love for field hockey lands locals in Junior Olympics

Tower Hill's Freibott, Cape Henlopen's Pepper selected to compete in Iowa
Christina Freibott first wrapped her hands around a field hockey stick in physical education classes as a Tower Hill School third-grader.

It was love at first clutch.

"Right away I was, like, this is a kinda cool," said Freibott, now 15 and headed into 10th grade at the Wilmington private school. "I've always been into soccer and diving, and this was a new sport and I loved it."

Hannah Pepper knows the feeling.

The Cape Henlopen High junior-to-be first played field hockey as a fifth-grader. She soon learned that one of the sport's benefits was the opportunity it gave players to engage in regional- and national-level competition with top-flight coaches.

"Going through the different clubs and the [U.S. Field Hockey] Futures program made it even more fun," Pepper said. "It's just a really exciting game, and interesting to play."

Apparently, field hockey is loving Pepper and Freibott back.

They are two of 120 girls selected through the Futures program during recent tryouts in Virginia Beach to play at the Junior Olympics in the under-16 category.

Competition begins next week at the University of Iowa.

Freibott will be going for the first time. Pepper was also selected and participated last year, when the Junior Olympics were held at the University of Michigan.

"It's such a high level of play, and you learn so much when you're with other [top-level] players," said Pepper, who lives in Lewes. "It was a great experience.

"It's really a great honor to be selected and a great opportunity to have a chance to be coached by college coaches."

Pepper's coach on the black team will be Iowa associate head coach Lisa Cellucci. Freibott's red team is being directed by Syracuse assistant Lynn Farquar. There are eight teams.

Those others sports are still important to Freibott, a Greenville resident. She plays soccer at Tower Hill and for the state club champion in her age group, the Kirkwood Freedom. She also happened to have won the one-meter diving title at the 2009 Delaware High School Swimming and Division Championships.

In hockey, however, her ability goes well beyond state borders.

"I love all the sports I do, but I definitely would like to concentrate on hockey," said Freibott, whose father, Fred, was quarterback of Tatnall's lone state football playoff qualifier, in 1981, with his father, also Fred, as coach.

Last fall, Christina Freibott cracked the starting lineup as a freshman and helped Tower Hill win its fourth straight state championship and 18th overall, tying a national record.

Freibott is young enough that she'll still be eligible for the U16 Junior Olympics next year, too. She'd given it a try last year and not been selected, which only made her want to go more.

"It's always nice to have a goal that's hard to get to so you have something to work for," she said. "A year with coach [Robin] Adair [at Tower Hill] really helped me. That brought me to a whole new level."

"This was such a huge goal for me. It seemed like a large accomplishment in the distance and I wasn't sure if I could get it. I'm lucky."

Pepper, in her last year of U16 Junior Olympics eligibility, is also on the track and field team, coached by her father, George, at Cape. She was on the winning 800-meter relay team in Division II at the state championships, and finished eighth in the triple jump at the Meet of Champions.

But field hockey is a year-round passion, as she plays indoors and out and on the Jersey Intensity and Gottaloveit! Oranje club teams.

Pepper and Freibott have both been inspired by the fact that the U.S. National field hockey team includes two graduates of Delaware high schools -- Cape Henlopen's Carrie Lingo and St. Mark's Katelyn Falgowski. Both were starters for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing last summer.

Lingo, who is from Rehoboth Beach, gave a field hockey clinic at Cape Henlopen last week that Pepper made sure not to miss. It left her raving about Lingo's generosity, enthusiasm and willingness to help other players.

Freibott recently attended a camp at the University of North Carolina, where Lingo played and Falgowski will be a junior. Falgowski worked at the camp.

"It was awesome watching her play," Freibott said. "I'm completely inspired [by Lingo and Falgowski]. They're just such great role models to look toward. If I could follow in their footsteps, that would be awesome."

Pepper and Freibott have begun that process.

By KEVIN TRESOLINI • The News Journal • July 26, 2009
Reprinted with permission of The News Journal