Hockey hotshot bound for US

By Martin Lang

Not too long ago, hockey hotshot Jess Chisholm expected midwinter would see her hitting the books in chilly Dunedin.

Instead, the 19-year-old Te Puna resident is preparing to depart next Tuesday to start a prized four-year scholarship at one of the United States' most select universities, Stanford in sunny California.

A regular presence in national age-group sides, Chisholm first caught the eye of US scouts at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore, where she and her New Zealand under-17 teammates took bronze.

Invited to apply for a spot on Stanford's prestigious athletic programme, she put maximum effort into her application, knowing only a tiny proportion of applicants make the grade.

On a par with the US northeast's ivy league universities, Stanford is one of the most selective US colleges - from about 32,000 annual applicants only 1675 are accepted. Golfer Tiger Woods played and studied there for two years in the mid-1990s before turning professional.

Despite an encouraging visit to the campus in February during a family trip Stateside, including meetings with prospective coaches, the midfielder was in Dunedin and about to begin an engineering degree at Otago University when an email came in late March congratulating her on being awarded the scholarship, worth in excess of US$300,000 ($3,700,000).

"It was such a shock. I had absolutely no idea I was going to get in," Chisholm says. "It's a huge privilege, a dream come true really."

Growing up in Te Puna, she attended Te Puna Primary and Bethlehem College Intermediate but got her secondary schooling at Waikato Diocesan School in Hamilton, where she served as deputy head girl last year.

She got an early start in hockey, first playing at age 5, inspired by watching her older sister in action. Mum Annabel played in her youth and used to coach her daughter's Te Puna Primary girls' team on the lawn at home. A Tauranga under-11 and under-13 rep, Chisholm progressed to the Waikato under-15, under-16 and under-18 teams as well as the 2010 Youth Olympics side.

Duties as deputy head girl brought a broader focus last year, and though she was non-travelling reserve for the New Zealand under-18 girls team, non-sporting experience such as a trip to a leadership conference in Sydney more than compensated in the Stanford application, Chisholm reckons.

"They want not just sporting ability, but also academic ability and some experience in community service, which was a big feature at Waikato Dio.

"The school had a tradition of making Easter baskets and distributing them around rest homes, and I'd helped organise that, among other activities. I'm sure things like that and the leadership conference helped my chances."

Preparation for the SAT entry exams brought a further test of character.

"I sacrificed my summer, I'd just finished school and then I had to get down and study. But obviously it was worth it all in the end," Chisholm says.

While field hockey is far from synonymous with US sport, the code is on the rise there and most of her national under-17 teammates were offered scholarships following the Singapore Youth Olympics, Chisholm says.

She is one of six new signings for the Stanford women's team, with all the other newcomers sourced from the US and Canada. The college is in the top division of the NCAA, a member of the Pacific-12 conference and of its 800 student athletes, 300 are on scholarships.

Though she plays predominantly in the midfield, Chisholm has the all-round skills and experience to fill most positions, an asset that could only boost her appeal to scholarship selectors. Given her hometown and main field position, there's no surprise that Tauranga's Black Sticks midfielder Gemma Flynn - currently in action at the London Olympics - is her favourite player.

About 30 minutes' drive south of San Francisco, the Stanford campus is dubbed "The Farm" and features Spanish architecture, picturesque trails among attractive landscaping and large areas of natural environment.

Situated in northwest Silicon Valley, the college has Nike as sponsor of its athletics programme, the sportswear giant being a major presence in the IT world's unofficial global capital.

While Chisholm says Stanford staff have told her most engineering graduates "go to [work for] Google or Yahoo", she is weighing up specialisation in biomedics or product design as potential pathways.

Being on the US west coast made Stanford all the more appealing. "I really wanted somewhere I could come back to New Zealand from easily. If you're in the middle of the States or out east it's a much bigger haul."

With that in her favour, she plans to return home for the US summer holidays as well as the Christmas break and parents Bruce and Annabel will also be going over for their daughter's orientation week next month.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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