Alumni Profiles Fall Sports Field Hockey Sports

Alumni Feature: Kelly McCarthy ’16 Brings Andover Determination and Spirit to Columbia and Beyond

Kelly McCarthy ’16, a four-year member of Andover Field Hockey and captain of the 2015 Nepsac Class A championship team, is now in her third year playing Division I Field Hockey for Columbia University. Last season, during her sophomore year, McCarthy was voted Co-Captain of the team.

Prior to her Junior year at Andover, McCarthy had never played field hockey. Encouraged by Coach Martha Fenton ’83, McCarthy decided to try out for the team. 

McCarthy said, “I bought my first stick right before I went to the last day of tryouts my [Junior] year for preseason that fall and ended up making the team as a [Junior] at Andover, but [I] was terrible, [and] didn’t really touch the field. I wasn’t… part of the team [that much]. I was like a practice player that season, but it was so fun and the girls brought me into the team. [Head Coach Kate Dolan] and [Coach Fenton] were amazing coaches for my whole four years on PAFH.”

McCarthy took the role of captain her Senior year and led the team to the Nepsac championship that year, Andover’s first since 1993.

McCarthy inspired those around her to give their all, according to Coach Dolan and Captain Meghan Ward ’19.

“Kelly was an outstanding Captain. She looked out for and cared genuinely for everyone on the team. She had a gift for talking and approaching people in a very calm, cheerful way. She was simply the type of person who made you want to give your best. She had the gift of making everyone around her better.” wrote Coach Dolan in an email to The Phillipian.

“My [Junior year], the majority of the team were actually new players to varsity, many of us new to the school. Kelly created a team environment that was inclusive and fun, but also intense. She was an inspiring leader and player who made everyone around her want to work harder. She knew how to balance encouragement with constructive feedback, which is why it didn’t surprise me at all when I heard she became Captain of Columbia Field Hockey as a sophomore,” said Ward.

McCarthy attributes her leadership approach at Andover to prior captains and teammates such as Cara Daly ’13, the Captain during her Junior Year.

“The biggest thing for me being a leader on the field hockey team at Andover was caring a whole lot and letting people know that you care a whole lot and acting like that in every way that you can and embodying that love for the team in all of your actions, and that was something that I saw displayed by all my teammates on PAFH and all of my captains even starting my [Junior] Year,” said McCarthy.

One of the biggest changes to the sport from high school to college, according to McCarthy, is the team’s competitiveness and drive. This change caused McCarthy to adapt her goals in order to lead her team in the best way possible.

McCarthy said, “In high school, it’s very much about having fun and of course we wanted to win. But in college there’s a different edge where the only and main objective is for our team to win. Everything we do is focused around winning which is just a very different mentality than I had in high school, and I’m a very team-oriented person.”

McCarthy continued, “Sometimes winning and everyone being super happy all the time isn’t exactly a one-to-one correlation, and so that was the biggest thing I had to realize and finding ways to make a cohesive team also a team that’s going to be winning and playing at a competitive level.”

Although collegiate field hockey is different in many ways from high school field hockey, McCarthy said that the experience she gained from being captain of Andover Field Hockey has impacted the mindset she brings to captaining her college team.

McCarthy said, “The biggest thing is just putting your heart on the team and playing for the team, and I think when I got to Columbia that was very much my mentality. I think that the team that I’m on now is very much like that where we play for each other, but I think that was sort of a new-ish mentality that I was able to bring to the Columbia team that PAFH taught me.”

According to Columbia Field Hockey Head Coach Caroline Nelson-Nichols, McCarthy’s selfless leadership has helped to change the culture of Columbia Field Hockey.

“Kelly is unique in her ability to lead, her ability to hold herself, her teammates to a very high standard, and the strength of her character that drives her. Kelly has had a tremendous impact on the team and this program. She is a natural leader who understands what it means to put the team before herself. She has demonstrated this since she first came into the program. Because of this leadership, Kelly has been pivotal in the culture change happening here at Columbia Field Hockey,” wrote Coach Nichols in an email to The Phillipian.

McCarthy’s accountability and devotion to the team are some of the many reasons that may have led her teammates to vote her captain, according to Coach Nichols.

Coach Nichols wrote, “Kelly consistently puts the team before herself and her teammates see that. Her teammates know that she will do anything for them and for the program which is partly why I think they voted her into a captain role as a sophomore. Kelly is driven by a very strong work ethic and high character — two additional pieces I believe helped her achieve a captain’s status so young.”

This past summer she attended the first of two six-week long programs for undergraduates at the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) in order to challenge herself, according to McCarthy.

“[Last spring], things were running more smoothly, and I’m a person who really likes to be challenged in serious ways. I ended up talking to somebody who was a Columbia Athletics alumni who went through the Officer Candidate program for the Marine Corps. I trained with the Marine Corps in my spring semester on the weekends before I committed to going down to Quantico over the summer, but it’s not something that I always planned on doing. It was more like I’ll go and take the risk, do something that really puts me outside my comfort zone for the first time,” said McCarthy.

“It was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I thought that Division I sports were the biggest challenge for me… It put things in perspective. A lot of the time I spent in Quantico was extremely uncomfortable physically and mentally, so everything I do here in terms of my physical training in Columbia for field hockey, that used to seem really hard, isn’t too bad anymore. It definitely taught me to be able to push my limits and lean on people around me,” continued McCarthy.

OCS first-handedly showed her the strength in unity, according to McCarthy. Since then, McCarthy has strived to put the things she learned into practice for her team.

“One of the biggest things I learned from that experience was just that if you invest in the people around you, the people around you are going to get you through whatever challenge it is in front of you. I kind of already believed in that, but OCS sort of confirmed that where I was just thrown into a squad bay with 50 strangers, and we were all living on top of each other and waking up at three in the morning, doing all this crazy stuff throughout the day and doing a lot of things that I didn’t think that I was going to be able to do. It was the people around me who got me through it,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy continued, “I think that I’ve been able to bring that back to my team. When things get really tough just emphasizing that trust and love in the team and the teamwork that we have has been a really big thing.”