A Selfless Leader

By Katie Nugent
Special to GoHolyCross.com

It was in seventh grade that field hockey player Courtney Callahan realized soccer was not her calling. Her dad watched as his petite daughter lined up to compete with 150 other girls at soccer tryouts. In an effort to save her from getting cut from the team, he gave Callahan her first field hockey stick. Ten years later, he finds himself cheering on the senior and co-captain of the Holy Cross field hockey team.

“Soccer just wasn’t my thing,” said Callahan. And today she is absolutely thrilled with her dad’s advice and her decision to play field hockey. Since stumbling into the sport in the seventh grade, her parents, Jack and Mary Alice Callahan, have remained her biggest fans. Her dad has been to it all – the practices, tournaments and road trips throughout high school and all but maybe three of her college games in her four years on the Hill.

During high school, Callahan admired the older kids. Watching some of them go on to play at Division I schools inspired her to train hard in an effort to pursue a college field hockey career. Her best friend, Jenny Raftery, who plays field hockey at Boston College, has been an especially important role model for Callahan as she developed into the player she is today. Raftery was always very supportive, but also competitive. “The friendly competition has brought me up to the next level,” said Callahan.

In spite of her considerable talent, the thing that is most striking about Callahan is her unassuming nature. When she first sat down to talk about her career, she started, “I’m not sure why you want to talk to me. I’m really not that good. I just have a bunch of great teammates that make me look good.”

Callahan’s original thought was to attend a far away, large Division I school. But her visit to the Holy Cross campus quickly changed her perspective. The players she visited with emphasized the balance of having a normal college life and being a Division I athlete. It was important to her to find a place that would not put more emphasis on one or the other, but rather to be able to live with both and have an overall enjoyable experience. “Sometimes you miss out on a lot when you play a college sport,” she admits. “I have tried to maintain a balance.” When she’s not on the field playing or in the library studying, you can find Courtney hanging out with friends and spending time with her roommates – maintaining the perfect balance between academics, friends and athletics.

Callahan has been very successful on an individual level, but she always emphasizes team success. Over her four years here, her teammates have played a huge role in her life both on and off the field. The love the team has for one another is something very special and they have a bond stronger than many college teams. “They are my life line. I don’t know what I would do without them,” Callahan says.

As a team leader, it is also Callahan’s responsibility to motivate everyone. To do this, she reminds them who they are playing for, to have pride in Holy Cross, and to support one another. Off the field, this support means being reliable. On the field this support means that when your teammate has the ball, you always play the support position. “We play for each other and that’s what keeps us motivated,” says Callahan. When I shared that quote with one of her teammates, ‘We play for Courtney,” she confided. “She’s a very unselfish player and a great leader.”

During her four years with the Crusaders, there have been many memorable moments and noteworthy achievements on the field. Her most memorable moment was beating Providence, 1-0, at home last year. It was a night game and the whole Holy Cross community packed the stands to watch the team upset the Friars. She smiles as she remembers taking pictures with her teammates in front of the scoreboard after the big win.

This year, Callahan’s nine goals and 19 points made her the offensive leader for the Holy Cross field hockey team. She was named the AT&T Crusader of the Week earlier this season, and the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week early in the 2008 campaign. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Callahan was named second team All-Patriot League for the second year in a row. Her nine goals and 19 points are a career high for a single season. She finishes the season ranked fifth in Patriot League goals and ninth in Patriot League points.

After graduation, the political science major’s future is bright. Callahan plans to work in the financial services industry. To stay involved with field hockey, she plans on supporting the team in the spring and finding a pickup league to play in. Callahan also foresees coaching in the future as a way to give back to the community since she is so grateful for the support from all of the people who have gotten her to where she is today.

Now that the season is over, she has come to realize how much Holy Cross field hockey has shaped her as a person. “In my four years I have really discovered a lot about myself, and where I want to go in life,” says Callahan. “I know now what hard work and dedication can bring to someone.”

“Field hockey has been such a huge part of my life so it’s not something I’m going to be able to give up easily,” Callahan said on imagining her life without Holy Cross field hockey. Pinpointing the thing she will miss most about her experience was not easy. She will miss her “teammates, coaches, trainers – everyone who has been so supportive.”

She would not change her experience at Holy Cross for anything, as she believes playing a sport here is an experience unlike any other school. At times, she has faced both academic and athletic challenges that seemed impossible to overcome, but they have made her strong-willed and allowed her to learn the power of perseverance.

“From seminars, to lifts, to runs, to 20-page papers, I have come to realize what it will take to be successful in life and to reach where I want to go,” Callahan says. “I am very grateful for what the Holy Cross community has done for me.”

No Courtney, it is the Holy Cross community which is grateful for what you have brought to the school.