Maryland has two representatives on this year’s United States Olympic field hockey team.
What happens in competition in Rio this month remains unknown.
Far more certain is that there will be plenty of visual evidence to mark
Katie O’Donnell Bam’s second Olympics and the first such call
for her former Terrapin teammate Jill Witmer.
“I want to take lots of pictures this time, so I told Jill she has to take selfie pictures with me,” O’Donnell Bam said recently at Team USA’s Send-Off Series in Lancaster, Pa.
There’s an on-field element, of course. The Americans, ranked No. 5 in the world, open pool play Sunday against Argentina.
The 16-player team was finalized earlier this summer, and it was a moment Witmer --- the 2013 ACC player of the year who ranks fourth all-time in Maryland history with 163 points --- won’t soon forget.
“I was just super-excited,” Witmer said. “It’s something I worked for for three years. My first [national team] trip was in Rio three years ago. Just to think I’m going back and it’s for the Olympics, it’s pretty awesome.”
While Witmer absorbs her first Olympic experience, O’Donnell Bam knows what to anticipate after earning a nod for the London Games.
That was a belated Olympics debut for her considering she was in contention for a roster spot eight years ago.
“When she was a freshman here she was on the national squad and had not gotten selected for the Beijing 2008 Games and was so sour from that,” Maryland coach Missy Meharg said. “For her in her mind, she should have been on that team. I always loved her for that. She has such a wonderful way about her and confidence as a young woman that in her mind she’s probably thinking ‘Maybe I’ll go for three after this.’
A four-time conference player of the year who is Maryland’s all-time leader in both goals (99) and assists (108), O’Donnell Bam has a sense of what she would like to change from her last Olympics trip.
“I do feel better prepared,” she said. “I kind of know what to expect. I know things I want to do differently, so I prepared to have them be different, if that makes any sense. Nutrition-wise, fitness-wise, team chemistry-wise, that sort of stuff. I prepared for those sorts of things differently and I tried to share them as much as I could with the people who are going through it the first time.”
The approach appears to be working entering the Olympics. O’Donnell Bam was named the top player in the Send-Off Series.
“She’s playing as well as she can and has ever, and that’s very exciting,” Meharg said. “I’m really happy for [Team] USA that Katie O’Donnell Bam is playing at her best hockey right now, because as we know and we have seen, she can finish.”
So can Witmer, who scored the United States’ first goal in a 5-0 rout of Canada in their final tuneup on American soil last month. She’s already absorbed some advice from O’Donnell Bam --- she plans to take plenty of pictures, too --- and is eager for the opportunity to participate in her first Olympics.
But beyond that, she said she is especially looking forward to the Opening Ceremonies in Rio.
“That’s when I think it’s going to hit me that I’m an Olympian,” Witmer said.
Maryland played a significant role in helping both O’Donnell Bam and Witmer elevate their hockey careers, providing a high-level platform for pursuing the chance to one day make it to an Olympics (or two).
“A lot of the young women who choose to come to Maryland look at it as an opportunity to be around the nation’s capital where there are a lot of international players and also to build their hockey in our environment,” Meharg said. “Both Katie and Jill in the recruitment process were very clear that having the opportunity to study at Maryland and earn a scholarship to play hockey here would [put] them in a great position to be Olympians.”
That experience still resonances with both O’Donnell Bam and Witmer.
“Missy has taught me so much about my career and where I’m supposed to be going,” O’Donnell Bam said. “She definitely guided me to this final place. Really, everyone at Maryland has helped me get here in one way or another.”
Added Witmer: “It’s such a family. You always feel connected because people are coming to your games and supporting you.”
Meharg has now had seven former players eventually earn a place on an Olympic team, and she credits administrative backing at Maryland on several levels for helping to sustain a successful program that continues to attract quality athletes.
“I’m just so honored and thankful that they support field hockey in such a way through facilities and scheduling and joining the Big Ten with such commitment for being the training ground for Olympians,” Meharg said.
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