Penn State Field Hockey Alumnus Lands Spot On The National Team
Amanda Dinunzio is a true product of Happy Valley.
Growing up in State College and staying local to play for the Penn State field hockey team, Dinunzio never really left Nittany Lion country. What started as fun playing with her sister in the backyard would take Dinunzio farther from home than she could ever imagine.
Dinunzio started playing field hockey for local teams around State College. However, State College is not known for being a field hockey hotbed. To succeed and gain recognition, athletes need to travel outside of central PA. And so she did, playing in tournaments as far as California while traveling to showcases all around the country to put her talent on display.
“I had to make sure on other weekends I was going to showcases or clinics where college coaches would be and sometimes go to other teams’ practices to receive better training or better coaching,” Dinunzio said. “Sometimes it was just for a day, traveling two or three hours and then coming back that night. I definitely made a lot of sacrifices.”
With the talent she had, it was known she’d be heading for a top Division I program. As certain as Dinunzio was about her future, playing in Happy Valley was far from a guarantee. “It was a dream of mine to go to Penn State, but there was a time when I thought I needed to get away,” Dinunzio said. “I couldn’t go to college in my hometown. So I did look into other schools, but it kind of came down to the last minute when I realized my heart was set on Penn State. I would compare every other school to here. I always knew I wanted to play for Penn State.”
Landing a spot on Penn State’s team made Dinunzio somewhat of an anomaly for State College field hockey. She believes, at the time, she was only the second player to go from State College High School to Penn State.
“It kind of gave me a sense of pride because a lot of the State College girls look up to me and because I didn’t come from a very competitive school,” Dinunzio said. “It wasn’t like we were state champions or anything like that. So it gave me confidence that I came from a small town and taught myself a lot. I worked hard and was still able to play with the best players in the country.”
During her time at Penn State, Dinunzio earned a slew of athletic and academic honors while serving as a leader on one of the most respected teams in the country. With her success came consistency, both individually and team-wide — reflected by four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament during her tenure.
Following four seasons with the Nittany Lions, Dinunzio earned a chance to try out with the U.S. National Field Hockey Team. Unfortunately, she was cut after the first round and was forced to make a decision. After consulting her coaches at Penn State, she realized she wasn’t quite ready to move on from the game.
Penn State assistant coach Stuart Smith and U.S. National Team assistant coach Janneke Schopman used their connections to set Dinunzio up with Dutch club HC Rotterdam in the fall of 2015. After a brief voluntary coaching stint, she departed for the Netherlands — the country that’s brought home the last two gold medals in Olympic women’s field hockey while becoming a destination for players looking to extend their careers.
“It’s one of the best clubs in the Netherlands, and for the Dutch, field hockey is their life,” Dinunzio said. “I wanted to keep playing and I knew I still needed something competitive because I’m so used to coming from a Division I college program. I didn’t just want to play pick up or play for fun. I still needed that competitive, structured system. That’s why this Rotterdam club was perfect for me.”
In Rotterdam, Dinunzio coaches youth teams within the club during the day before training with the main team. She was content; HC Rotterdam had become Dinunzio’s home, and playing for the National Team slowly took a backseat. But after Penn State head coach Charlene Morett-Curtiss recommended her to the National Team coach, Dinunzio returned stateside for a second shot at U.S team trials in January.
Dinunzio was selected out of a pool of 25-30 players in attendance and was offered a year-long contract that will begin in September after the Rio Olympics. She plans to stay with HC Rotterdam through the rest of the season before moving to Lancaster, the home of U.S. Field Hockey.
Despite her new-found national success, the hard work is only beginning. Of the 25 or so players expected to be under contract following the Olympics, 16-18 will travel for competitions or test series, meaning Dinunzio will need to prove her worth in order to secure a spot. “That’s where it gets more cutthroat than college because you’re going to be working so hard — just as hard as everyone else,” Dinunzio said. “You may not get to go on a certain trip.”
Amanda Dinunzio’s come a long way since her early days traveling the country chasing her field hockey dream. But the dream hasn’t been fulfilled yet, and doesn’t end here. In fact, the story might only just be starting.