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Leading the Way: Alumnae Trio Captaining Division I Field Hockey Programs

Throughout the 2016 Hill Field Hockey season, coaches Julie deLaurentis, Amanda Dougherty, and Jen Weissbach reminded the group that a team’s true colors are shown during times of adversity, a sentiment that was tested ten minutes into the regular-season finale and Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) championship game against rival Lawrenceville.  After falling in an early 2-0 hole, Hill relied on the leadership of captains Alexis Grippo ’17 and Erin Kelly ’17 and a deep sixth form class to move past the slow start and forge a comeback attempt. 

Fifty minutes later, fans poured onto the field to celebrate Hill’s come-from-behind, 3-2 victory in which Grippo and Kelly scored the tying and winning goals, a clear demonstration of the team’s mettle and strong leadership.

Four days after the memorable comeback victory, Grippo, Kelly, and Lexi Davidson ’17 each officially committed to play collegiate field hockey at Wake Forest University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University, respectively.  Throughout the past three seasons, all three players have become invaluable members of their collegiate teams, culminating with all three being chosen as a team captain for the 2020 season.    

“Erin, Alexis, and Lexi were phenomenal leaders for us here at Hill leading us to a MAPL Championship in their sixth form season,” said Weissbach, the team's head coach since 2017. “But, more importantly, they left behind a legacy of what is expected of our Hill Field Hockey Family on and off the field. They were the hardest workers on our field and that has clearly carried over to their respective universities. They were dedicated to being their best selves for us each and every day. They led by example and our program was better because of it. Without them, our program would not be where it is now. These three girls hold a special place in my heart and I could not be more proud of them. They are strong, confident women who will go on to do great things in this world.”

Below are brief profiles of each alumna as well as answers to interview questions.

Erin Kelly: University of Pennsylvania

With less than four minutes remaining in the 2016 Lawrenceville game, Erin Kelly received an inserted corner and fired a low, driven shot inside the far post to put Hill ahead 3-2, completing Hill’s comeback and setting off a frenzied celebration from the hundreds of Hill students lining Briggs S. Cunningham ’26 ’50 Field.  Hill withstood Lawrenceville’s late push for a tying goal to clinch what, at the time, was the program’s eighth MAPL title. 

Scoring a championship-winning goal was a storybook ending to her Hill career for the team co-captain, who went on to earn a second-consecutive First Team All-MAPL nod later that fall.  Kelly also was a two-time All-Area selection, and she represented Hill in the 2016 PhilaFH Senior All-Star Game.  She appeared in all 17 games as a freshman at Penn and started every game during both her sophomore and junior seasons.  Following her sophomore campaign, Kelly was named Honorable Mention All-Ivy League, and during her junior season she led the team with six assists.    

Now that you’re three-plus years removed from Hill, in what ways did Hill prepare you for your transition to college and to balance the demands of being a Division I student-athlete?
Hill definitely taught me how to thrive in a busy environment and in a state of structure. I think coming from Hill where every part of the day has its time and place that require different parts of myself was huge in helping me compartmentalize my day as a student-athlete. I was able to come into college knowing how to quickly transition between academics, athletics, and social life throughout the day and be present in those different settings. I also think that knowing I had a small, tight-knit community that supported me throughout all four years at Hill and beyond was mentally so important in helping my transition to college. It’s definitely tough to go from being in a small environment where everyone knows each other and knows when you’re having an off day to a much bigger college space where I had to actively seek out and create those tight-knit communities. I’m very lucky to have so many close relationships from Hill. They were critical in helping me transition because freshman fall can be really tough no matter how prepared you are.

What are some moments/who are some people that have been notably influential in your development as a leader?
I wouldn’t be anything without my parents and three older sisters. They’ve always supported me in everything I do, but they also always know when to push me and understand how to take care of myself mentally. That’s one thing that has been critical to being a leader in the long term. I also would not be playing Division I field hockey if it hadn’t been for Coach Dubs helping me understand my potential as a student-athlete. One of my sisters always said I should consider DI, but I always thought I wanted DIII until Penn came into my recruiting process. I will never forget the conversation Dubs and I had 5th form year after our field hockey banquet when she was so honest and transparent saying how I could achieve my collegiate field hockey and academic goals at Penn. I don’t think I would’ve gotten what I wanted out of college had it not been for her pushing me along.

If you were to give one piece of advice to an aspiring leader, what would it be?
One piece of advice is to always remember the expression that you can’t pour from an empty cup, meaning you can’t give yourself emotionally to the team if you’re constantly depleting your emotional energy. That’s something I’m still learning how to master and how to ensure I’m taking care of myself holistically in order to be my best for my team so they can count on me. I think one more important piece of advice to remember is that leadership manifests itself in people differently, and everybody has a different definition of what the ideal leader looks like. It’s important to push yourself to be the best leader you can be and make that leadership/captain role your own. You need to personify your leadership position to make it original and as strong as you personally can make it.

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a team captain?  Biggest challenges?
I still remember the feelings I felt as an underclassman looking up to the captains and I love that I can be that support system for the younger classes. I know how much I looked up to my upperclassmen and to feel like I can play some role in the other classes’ experiences. The biggest challenge right now is that I don’t get that captain role on the field right now playing with everyone. That’s always such a gratifying part of doing all the behind the scenes / administrative aspects of being a captain, so it’s been tough trying to find the replacement to not playing with my team.

What do you hope your legacy as a team captain is?
I hope that I leave behind a legacy of humility. I think that’s one of the best things a leader can embody because it shows the team how to be vulnerable and honest in order to become the best version of yourself. You need to be emotionally transparent and receptive because that’s how a team can move through difficult times effectively. I think when people on a team are willing to give themselves emotionally to each other to achieve a common goal, that will naturally create an environment that expects a high standard of excellence from each other.

Alexis Grippo: Wake Forest University

During her third form year, Alexis Grippo made a decision that altered the trajectory of her athletic career.  A highly accomplished youth ice hockey player, Grippo had participated in the USA Hockey National Camp for her age group prior to her arrival at The Hill.  Rather than continuing to play for the New Jersey Colonials, her club ice hockey team, Grippo opted to join the WC Eagles club field hockey team and focus her offseason training on the turf rather than on the ice. 

Three years later, Grippo sat in the lobby of The Hill School’s athletic department signing a National Letter of Intent to attend and play field hockey at Wake Forest University, having recently concluded a decorated Hill Field Hockey career in which she finished as the program’s career goal-scoring leader.  A four-year starter at Hill, Grippo was a three-time First Team All-MAPL and three-time All-Area selection.  She played in all 19 games as a first-year Demon Deacon and started the first 12 games of her sophomore campaign before an injury cut her season short.  As a junior, Grippo played in all 20 games and registered five goals and five assists on the season.      

Now that you’re three-plus years removed from Hill, in what ways did Hill prepare you for your transition to college and to balance the demands of being a Division I student-athlete?
I think Hill really did a good job of preparing me to always be a student first. I knew field hockey was not going to be my career after I left Wake, therefore the importance of taking academics seriously and doing the best I could in the classroom was instilled in me from my 3rd form year. 

What are some moments/who are some people that have been notably influential in your development as a leader?
I think there are so many members in the Hill community who helped shape me into who I am today, but there are two people who stand out. First Coach Dubbs has always been someone I look up to and respect so much. Throughout the time we spent together at Hill she really helped me to learn how to lead by example and always challenge myself to be better in all areas of my life. To this day I consider her one of my biggest mentors and I know she will be a positive influence in my life for years to come. Another person who I learned a lot from at Hill is Mr. Baum. He believed in me as an athlete and person before I was even a student at Hill. He showed me what it is like to put your full self into everything you do, and that makes everyone else around you better. He prepared me mentally to become a division one athlete, and I am thankful he brought me to Hill. 

If you were to give one piece of advice to an aspiring leader, what would it be?
My biggest piece of advice would be to lead by example. You cannot expect your teammates to buy in if you do not lead yourself first. Also, another valuable skill I learned is how to listen first. As a captain, I want all of my teammates to be heard and respected, which starts by listening to them and their needs. 

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a team captain?  Biggest challenges?
Some of my favorite aspects of being captain are that people can rely on me when things are not going so well. Some of the biggest challenges on the flip side is, when things are not going so well, is reuniting the team and getting our focus back on track. 

What do you hope your legacy as a team captain is?
I am working to leave a positive legacy on my team. I want my teammates to know I always had and will have their backs regardless of the circumstance. 

Lexi Davidson: Duke University

Throughout her first three years of high school, Massachusetts native Lexi Davidson spent countless hours in the car commuting to Pennsylvania to compete for her club team, X-Calibur, which trains in the Pottstown-based 422 SportsPlex.  Needing a change, Davidson applied to The Hill and enrolled as a one-year sixth form student for the 2016-2017 school year.  Previously a member of the U-17 national team, Davidson added a key piece to Hill’s 2016 field hockey roster, anchoring the midfield and earning First Team All-MAPL and All-Area accolades.  

Sought by some of the top collegiate field hockey programs in the country, Davidson signed a National Letter of Intent to attend and compete for Duke University.  She earned a spot in the Blue Devils’ starting lineup as a sophomore, a position she has not relinquished in the ensuing two-plus seasons.  Prior to the 2020 season, Davidson was named to the Preseason All-ACC squad.

Now that you’re three-plus years removed from Hill, in what ways did Hill prepare you for your transition to college and to balance the demands of being a Division I student-athlete?
Hill helped me in more ways than I even thought were possible when I first arrived at Duke. As tired as this is, time management was the number one area where I felt super prepared coming to Duke. I was used to juggling multiple assignments along with sports and a social life when at Hill so at Duke I applied those same skills. Additionally, I was prepared to fail, that sounds bad, but what I mean is that at Hill I was challenged as a student, friend, and athlete and what I learned was it matters what I learn from those challenges and how I grow from past failures. This allowed me to continually grow while at Duke and not see my failures as setbacks, but rather as opportunities to improve upon.

What are some moments/who are some people that have been notably influential in your development as a leader?
Jen Weissbach, the ultimate confidant, friend, advisor, and mentor I could ever ask for, she is truly the GOAT. On a more serious note, Dubs always treated me like an equal which made me want to work hard for her, listen to her, and respect her. She is truly the kind of person and leader I hope to emulate as a captain on my team at Duke.

If you were to give one piece of advice to an aspiring leader, what would it be?
Listen to what people have to say and make them feel heard. Even if you go in the opposite direction of an expressed viewpoint people will be much more willing to jump on the bandwagon because they know that their voice was part of the decision-making process.

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a team captain?  Biggest challenges?
I love that my team chose me to help represent Duke. It is something that I would never take for granted even on the hardest days. Also, it is nice being able to speak to the ref without being reprimanded.

It can be hard to balance a team and personal perspective as the two are very intertwined.

What do you hope your legacy as a team captain is?
That I was someone who led by example and helped others excel on and off the field ultimately creating more leaders for Duke field hockey.