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Standing Out Krysten Mayers '18

As she steps onto the field for her final game in a Big Red field hockey uniform on Saturday afternoon, Krysten Mayers will have one more opportunity to stand out by playing the game she loves while rewriting the Cornell record book. Sitting at the top of the leader board for both career goals and points, all that remains is etching in the final numbers.

She has always stood out on the field hockey pitch.

She has always been one of the fastest.

She has always been one of the most skilled.

And she has always been one of the only minorities.

According to the NCAA’s Sport Sponsorship, Participation and Demographics Report, during the 2016 season there were 1,802 women playing Division I field hockey. Of those, only 26 self-identified as “black”. That’s less than .02 percent.

“It's interesting playing in a sport that is predominately white,” says Mayers. “I’ve been the only black girl on the team for four years. And other than my sister, it was that way in middle school and high school. In middle school it didn’t' really strike me as weird. But I’ve noticed the higher up – high school, college, international – the less minorities you see in field hockey.”

2017 Cornell Field Hockey Team

Mayers was born to play field hockey. A sport that is wildly popular around the globe, and played more prominently by men than by women on the international level, Mayers’ father Leroy was a member of the of the Barbados Junior National and Senior National squads from 1988 to 2003. Later he committed his trade to USA Field Hockey, spending time at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego from 1994 through 1998. He was also a member of the USA East team that won the bronze medal at the 1994 US Sports Festival.

Leroy, who works as an IT executive, continued to travel around the world and play field hockey while Mayers was young and it had a lasting effect on her and her sister, Krystal, who is one-year older.

“He would go off to these tournaments and he would come back with these little trinkets from the countries that he went to,” says Mayers. “When I realized what he was doing, I thought it was really cool and we asked him to teach us.”

At first, both parents were a little wary. While field hockey is not a contact sport, it does consist of players wielding sticks, traditionally wood but more recently made of composite materials including fibreglass, carbon fibre and Kevlar, and smacking a hard rubber ball that is covered with a tough plastic shell.

Despite their initial hesitation, the parents relented and soon the Mayers’ house became a neighborhood novelty as the sisters would practice field hockey in their driveway underneath the more traditional, but rarely used, basketball hoop.

“We put tape up the end of our sticks so they wouldn't get ruined on the pavement and we would pass or run through these cone drills that my dad would set up,” explains Mayers. “So many cars driving by would slow down and watch and then speed up again once they got past. It's not normal to see that … you see people playing catch. But field hockey? No. It was weird.”

The years of playing in the driveway and learning from their father paid off and both sisters went on to make their middle school and high school teams. To some extent, they proved to be ambassadors for the sport among their teammates, many of whom were just starting to learn how to play the game.

Mayers went on to have one of the best careers in Parsippany High School history. In her final two seasons she scored 72 goals and registered 52 assists and following both her junior and senior year she was named the Star Ledger and the Daily Record Field Hockey Player of the Year.

The New Jersey native didn’t slow down when she arrived at Cornell. An integral part of the offense from the time she arrived on East Hill, she has completely rewritten the Big Red record book. Mayers has twice been named to the Mideast Region All-American team and she is a three-time All-Ivy selection. She will graduate as the Cornell field hockey program’s leader in both career goals and career points, and she holds the school record for goals in a single-season (14), which she set during her sophomore campaign.

“We knew early-on that Krysten was an outstanding player and we thought she would have a chance to be one of the best strikers to ever play at Cornell,” says head coach Donna Hornibrook. “She’s a really solid all-around player. She has tremendous skill and she has the confidence that you need as a striker to go to the net and score. The thing that sets Krysten apart is that a lot of strikers don’t commit to the defensive side, but she steals balls off backs all the time. That ability to pressure the opponent and turn it into a scoring chance for us makes her really unique.”

It was Mayers’ record-breaking performance her sophomore year that helped her realize that she could have a shot at the Big Red’s all-time goal record, a standard that was set by Linda Miller ’84 (1980-83) a full 13 years before Mayers was born in 1996.

“At the end of last year I saw I only needed five more goals and I felt like, ‘Wow. I'm going to do it!’ But this has been a strange season,” says Mayers.

The 2017 season got underway late for Mayers, who was granted time off from training by Hornibrook to study and complete the MCAT. Then her paternal great-grandmother passed away and she had to miss the first two games of the season in order to travel to Barbados for the funeral. Back-to-back bouts of the flu and food poisoning saw her miss more practice time. Mayers finally broke both the goals and points records in dramatic fashion, scoring the overtime game-winner vs. Brown in the Big Red’s 13th game of the season – hitting the mark with three games to spare.

“That record has stood for years, before I was even born, so I feel like it's a really big accomplishment,” says Mayers. “I'm really proud of myself for all the efforts that I put into this team. It's big. I started playing so young - five or six years old - and now to be in my last year in college. It's a really great way to tie up my career. It’s my highest non-academic achievement.”

Mayers posing with the record-breaking game ball for the field hockey team's Instagram account.

With the school records in hand and her collegiate career coming to a close this weekend at Dartmouth, Mayers will turn her attention to life beyond Cornell. She will continue to play field hockey as a member of the Barbados National Team and will continue her education by attending medical school.

Mayers and her sister, who hold dual citizenships, were both named to the Barbados U21 national team that participated in the 2016 Pan American Junior Championship and both have since moved up to train with the Senior National Team.

The 2016 Barbados U21 National Team

Between finishing up her final semesters at Cornell and travelling to Barbados to train, Mayers will have medical school interviews in the spring. A Human Development Studies major in the College of Human Ecology, she applied to 30 medical schools and plans to go into pediatric oncology.

“On average, most people probably apply to around 20, but the acceptance rate into some of these medical schools is 3 percent, 2 percent, 1.2 percent, 1.4 percent, 4 percent,” says Mayers. “It's crazy!”

Crazy numbers to be sure, but Mayers has never let the percentages stop her from achieving her dreams. Why should she start now?

Credits:

Patrick Shanahan, Dave Burbank, Rose Gorski

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