In January of 2005, almost 2,000 girls tried out for a spot in the Elite Performance Training Center program. The Pennsylvania/New Jersey team alone had more than 300 girls competing within the region, of which only 10 percent were selected for the prestigious position.
In June, that number was again trimmed when a traveling squad was put together to compete at the national championships. After all of the cuts had been made, senior Lea Salese was left standing. Salese, along with her teammate Kelsey Nickels, had been selected to compete in one of the most elite field hockey programs in the country.
"I tried out in January for the team that included players from Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” she said. “They selected 30 from the region, who practiced from April through June. In June a team of 20 was selected to be a part of a travel squad that competed at the national championships in Virginia Beach.
"The country was divided into six regions with about 40 girls to each region, so everyone we played against was in the elite in the country."
Salese was selected to be a part of the development camp for the U-21 national team, which solidifies her as one of the top fifty players in the country for her age. She started in a number of the games at the national championships, and came off the bench frequently when she wasn't starting. Only a few girls from the Ivy League were even selected to be a part of this program.
"From what I could see, there were a few girls from the Ivy League. On my team there were four girls from Princeton and one girl from Yale,” she said.
The Elite Performance Training Center, or EPTC, is a regional development program for the U.S. National Team and for up and coming national-caliber players. Girls are selected to play because they showed the potential to be national team members. Once the selections have been made, the girls train once a week from April through June, and are coached by some of the top college coaches in the country. This past summer, the Pennsylvania and New Jersey team, of which Salese was a part, was coached by Princeton's Kristen Holmes and Penn's Jeremy Cook.
After the completion of the three months of training, a team of about twenty girls is selected to compete on a traveling squad. This team earns the right to play at the national championships in Virginia Beach. Salese competed with the regional team that placed third at the championships this past summer.
Salese, who was named First Team STX/NFHCA All-Mid-Atlantic, First Team All-Ivy League, Philadelphia City Six Most Valuable Player, and All-Philadelphia for the 2004 season, is more than ready for the 2005 season. The EPTC program proved a valuable experience for the Quaker.
"This helped me to prepare for the season mainly by giving me the opportunity to play live games,” she said. “The best way to improve is to play in a real game."
Now a senior, competing in her last season with the Red and Blue, she is focused on the immediate goals ahead. Though her college career may be coming to a close, her field hockey career may not necessarily be ending.
"I am now too old to play with the U-21 league, “ she said, “so I'd be playing at the national team level. I'm not positive if I'm going to try to make that national team, but it is a possibility."
Written by Matt Valenti, C’07