When Rixt van der Kooi was told that she would be playing her field hockey games on a grass surface this fall, the “away” games at least, she let out a laugh.
It was a first for the Ipswich High senior, a 16-year-old exchange student this year from Steenwijk, a city of 18,000 in the Dutch province of Overijssel, 76 miles east of Amsterdam.
At home, Van der Kooi plays at the national level for the Super B division of HC Zwolle. In the Netherlands, where the sport is known simply as “hockey” and the women’s national team is fresh off a 2018 World Cup victory, a grass field is unheard of.
“Field hockey in the Netherlands is the number one sport,” van der Kooi said.
“When I heard that we play on grass, I was like, ‘Wow, OK,’ but that’s fun, because I didn’t play before on grass. It was exciting.”
Grass or turf, she is proving to be a player in Ipswich.
“She’s got really awesome stick skills, is a great ball handler, and can play kind of everywhere,” said Ipswich coach Sarah Murphy. “She’s got a great personality, a positive attitude, and she fits right in with our kids.”
At 5-4-2, Ipswich must win four of its five remaining games to qualify for state tournament for the seventh straight year. Van der Kooi could be an integral part of a tourney push — she currently leads the Tigers in assists (5) and is second in goals (5).
Senior captain Maddie Wilson, whose family is hosting van der Kooi this year, said it’s important to look beyond the box score, because her exchange sister is far from a “ballhog.”
“It’s not like she came in and had control of the play the entire time,” Wilson said. “She’s really good at giving really important passes and supporting the other girls who are on the field.”
Van der Kooi, who started the season in the midfield but has since rotated positions on a regular basis, has made it “easier to let the others play,’’ she said.
“I don’t feel like I’m that important player, because it’s so fun and I do my best every day. I want to let other people also play better, and I can help that.”
Citing the proximity to Boston and New York, in addition to the long list of ski areas, she wanted to study in New England. There are 15 high schools in Massachusetts listed as hosts through the Educatius Group, which places international students in this country. Van der Kooi decided her best chance to play field hockey would come at Ipswich.
The Wilson family has hosted through Educatius in the past.
“It’s been really great having a sister on the team,” Wilson said. “She’ll come up to me really quickly and be like, ‘Maddie, great job.’ I love having a teammate who can make me feel better. She has a great sense of humor. We get along so, so well.”
Of the many differences she’s experienced getting acclimated to American life — playing on grass fields, speaking English throughout the day at school, and having to ask her coach what “the big white post things” are on the field (football goalposts) — none have been more exciting to van der Kooi than the camaraderie she’s developed with her Ipswich teammates.
Murphy said van der Kooi tends to offer suggestions for practice drills taken from her home club and is the first to give advice and encouragement to her teammates, even during the game.
“In the Netherlands, it’s more individual,” van der Kooi said. “For me, we have two weeks left, and it’s so sad because we are [having] so much fun. We are like one big family.”
■ Central Catholic senior captain Maggie Mahan will continue her field hockey career next year at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., where she will join the Seahawks’ fledgling Division 1 program in its inaugural year.
■ Foxborough put together a solid run in October, outscoring opponents, 19-1, over a six-game span. The Warriors defeated ranked league opponent Canton and handed King Philip its first loss. The lone blemish? A 1-1 tie to Hockomock League opponent Franklin on Oct. 3. Credit is due to senior goalkeeper Julia Carangelo, who has posted a 0.58 GAA and registered eight shutouts this season.