We woke up to yet another sad and raining morning. However, this time was different. Spirits were not low because it was #gameday. Again #blessed with the Aussie continental breakfast, the members of YFH indulged in the vast array of breakfast options to prepare themselves for what was to transpire later that day on the Illawarra South Coast Hockey Association field.
At approximately 10 am, satiated from another joyous breakfast — where team members finally got the hang of their coffee orders — YFH departed for Wollongong. Our new bus driver Walter (Dez was no longer our loyal transporter) drove the Murray bus (whose rank is comparable to that of the trusted Academy back home in the US) down the winding, scenic route to the city of Wollongong, where we took in the lush green mountains and vast blue South Pacific Ocean landscapes. He even stopped at one point to allow the team in its entirety to step off the bus and take in the views and fresh air for a few sweet, sweet minutes. But time was a-ticking! We boarded the bus once again and continued our journey to lunch and hockey.
When we arrived in Wollongong, we stepped off the bus once again and embarked on a short excursion about the bustling metropolis that is Wollongong, until it was time for lunch. As we distanced ourselves from both the bus and the restaurant where we should dine, we crossed street after street, intersection after intersection, strolling past houses and shops and intricate window displays, stopping to talk about Australian rugby, circling back to the train station where we had begun our trip. Thereafter we sauntered over to Station Street Brewers where we would find a delicious buffet awaiting our arrival. We dined on sandwiches and fruit, drank smoothies and long blacks, and finished off our time at the unique venue with a group photo in front of the restaurant taken with several of those employees who had helped us. Afterwards we boarded the bus again to take us to an outdoor mall down the road, where players could peruse different shops while others had the opportunity to exchange that #cashmoney to the local Aussie currency (the dollar). From there, we embarked on the tail end of our journey to the Illawarra South Coast Hockey Association field.
When we arrived at the indoor and outdoor field complex, we were greeted with friendly and open arms. YFH players and coaches were directed to a building located between the two outdoor turf fields, which housed changing rooms on the bottom floor, and an open room upstairs. There we prepped for the game. Players put on their white uniforms, pulled back their hair into tight ponytails, got taped and treated by Jordo, and prepared mentally for the match that was about to ensue.
The “Friendly” was just that — friendly. After running through a shortened version of our usual pregame warmup, we lined up on the sideline closest to the benches, parallel to the players of the opposing team. As we walked the walk, matching up with the opposition as we would normally do in-season, there was however something slightly different. This time each player walking to the center of the field — paired with a stranger, soon to be a friend — carried in their hand a pin representing their own team, which they would soon exchange for a pin of the opposing team. This traditional exchange, new for most of YFH, was recognized as a special moment for us all.
The match began soon after the exchange, and after four 15-minute periods of free and fluid hockey, playing against an assortment Illawarra’s finest, and coach Jess Barnett (#traitor, but #greatgame), YFH finished ahead 2-1. After shaking hands once again with the other team, we cleared the field, headed to the showers, and finished with dinner in the clubhouse. The social with other players and coaches was both fun and friendly as we talked with Aussie natives about school and life down under. We even got to mingle with the New South Wales men’s indoor team, meeting some players who were members of the Australian Olympic team playing in Rio this past summer (2016). As dinner wrapped up, the president of the Illawarra South Coast Hockey Association spoke to us, thanked us for coming, and gifted a jersey — which represented the four hockey associations that had recently joined together to form the new coalition of clubs — to our associate athletic director, and honorary assistant coach, Jess Chrabaszcz. Our team captains, Kiwi, Tess and Carol, were the next ones to speak to the group. They thanked the players and coaches of the opposing team, and all others involved in the process, for helping to coordinate the match and for hosting us. Pam then spoke to thank everybody for their help and reciprocated the gift of jerseys to president and his colleague, as well as to one special player from the other team. Number forty one, Comfort, was named “played of the match” and received a Yale Bulldogs t-shirt.
Following the delicious meal and somber goodbyes from our new friends on the Illawarra team, we packed up the bus and headed over to the indoor facility to watch the New South Wales women’s team compete. A number of us sat and watched in utter amazement, marveling at their skill and speed of the game. Unfortunately, as the first half of their match came to close, so did our time at the Illawarra South Coast Hockey Association field complex. We exited the arena and boarded our Murray bus one last time for the day and began our trip back to the Travelodge hotel in Sydney, with yet another fun and exciting day #downunder in the books!
(By Katie ’18 and Lily Smith ’18)