GUILDERLAND — Carrie Hanks has been in some shoes that just about ruined her feet, and said on Monday that she “can’t wait” for surgery this week to correct it.
She has been in some other shoes, in a metaphorical sense, that allow her to identify with the girls on the Guilderland field hockey team.
They can’t wait for her to come back next week.
On hiatus from Team USA because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks, a former Niskayuna High star and All-American at the University of Maryland, has been helping head coach Jen Sykes as an assistant for a Dutch team that won its first-ever Section II Class A championship last season.
They won’t be able to duplicate that — Section II championships for fall sports have been canceled — but Guilderland has plenty of other goals, and will have a national team member helping them achieve those.
While Hanks brings a treasure chest of technical skill to the Dutch program this season, she also knows what type of challenges they face, having spent four years on the Niskayuna varsity, reaching three Section II championship games, and starting every game in four seasons at Maryland, helping the Terrapins reach the NCAA national championship game as a senior in 2017.
It’s not an overstatement to say that the Dutch were starstruck when Sykes notified them this summer of the latest addition to the staff.
“I saw in my coach’s email, when she announced that she was going to be an assistant coach, it was like a shock, because she’s such a great player and can give us so much good advice and teach us so many new things throughout the game,” senior Ava Thomson said.
“We’re so grateful to have her,” senior Sophia Sericolo said. “She can teach us so many things and is always giving us new skills and new drills. My coach texted me, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, you couldn’t have picked anyone better.'”
Sykes came to Guilderland from Shenendehowa, but has known Hanks for years, through the ADK Field Hockey club she runs with her husband, Phil, the UAlbany head coach.
It didn’t take long for them to recognize not only a superior talent, but relentless drive to get better as a player.
With her national team participation on hold, Hanks started working with many of the Guilderland players through ADK this summer.
“I started coaching Carrie when she was in sixth grade,” Sykes said. “My husband and I coached her and said, ‘She’s just a champion.’
“Her and Ali Frary, who was one of her buddies from Niskayuna, they had this competitive drive as sixth-graders, which a lot of girls are uncomfortable with hockey at first. It’s a tough sport to learn, the skills are very difficult. They just picked it up and were going one-on-one. They were diving into the bleachers at Blatnick Gym at Niskayuna. They just never stopped, and it was that competitive drive and the ability to watch and then almost immediately do a skill, it was like … ‘Wow. She’s got that X-factor.'”
“I try and coach the way I would want to be coached,” Hanks said. “So having an older player who has been in these girls’ shoes, I try and explain things in a way I think would make sense. Sometimes, I’ll give them a way to think about something, and if that’s not working, we’re going to try something else.”
Hanks graduated from Maryland in 2018 and had her Olympic aspirations bolstered in January when she was tabbed to play for the U.S. National Team after having participated in a team tryout in Pennsylvania.
Having already gained a foothold in the national program at the junior and senior development levels, she got the big news while studying at Nottingham Trent University in England, where she competed in high-level club field hockey for two seasons.
Twelve days after being named to Team USA, she began playing in the FIH Hockey Pro League, but not long after, everything was shut down because of the pandemic.
“We’ve been kind of dispersed back at home, doing workouts and keeping connected with each other. A few months home, and I’m still here,” she said.
“I came back and was so excited that I get to keep playing and keep improving. Now, it’s been so long since I actually played a game, and I’m actually in the middle of injury recovery, so the day that I actually get to play in a game setting, I’m going to be like, ‘This is magical.'”
Until them, she’ll have to live vicariously through the Dutch.
One of her roles is to ratchet up the individual skill level.
“She’s so good at teaching the technical side of any skill,” Sykes said. “Then, the tactical side of where the ball should be moving, where you should be moving off-ball. So it’s like winning the field hockey jackpot on the sideline with us. We’re thrilled to have her, and as long as the U.S. doesn’t start back up, she’ll be with us. For now, we’ll take her.”
“Right now we’re working on a backspace shooting,” Hanks said. “I’m trying to get them to jump around a ball and hit it at the same time, and I have to tell them, ‘You’re going to look silly. It’s going to happen.’ But doing it wrong, that’s how you figure out how to do it right.”
Hanks is on mini-hiatus from her bigger hiatus this week to have a bunion corrected.
She suffered from the condition, in which the toes become compressed together inside shoes and cause inflammation — and worse — and it got bad enough that she requires surgery and is confined to a stationary bike for training.
“It makes me sound like I’m an 80-year-old woman, but I’ve got bunions on the outside of my feet from the turf shoes I was wearing,” she said with a laugh. “It was affecting my game enough that I was constantly taking anti-inflammatories. I took care of one and, knock on wood on Friday, I can take care of the other one and get rolling.
“My trainer was getting me comfortable, we put the pads on, and they got to a point in California where they were infected and I was walking like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to cut my feet off.’ Can’t wait. At the end of this I’ll have straight toes, and I can’t wait.”
She also can’t wait to “hit the ground running” when Team USA starts up with group training again, but in the meantime, Hanks has plenty to keep her feet — and her mind — busy.
“It’s so much fun to come back and work with these girls,” she said. “They have a great attitude, and you can tell that they want to learn and figure out how to get better.
“If I can help with that, I’ll do it.”