UConn field hockey star Cecile Pieper came to the Huskies with experience, accolades and hardware. She won a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, a gold medal at the 2018 Indoor World Cup and she won the German Championship six times as a member of the youth national team. As for the UConn field hockey team, they have won three National Championships in the last five years. Pairing Pieper with UConn field hockey was a match made in heaven.
Head coach Nancy Stevens raved about what Pieper has brought to the team.
“She didn’t just play at the highest level, she excelled at the highest level,” Stevens said. “She brings in great experience, talent, athleticism and is just a great person who is so much fun to be around.”
Pieper, who also goes by “Pippy,” came to UConn all the way from Manheim, Germany. After obtaining an Olympic waiver from the NCAA, she was granted a sixth year of eligibility. At the age of 24, which is the oldest on the team, Pieper catches some kind-hearted flak from her teammates.
“Yeah, they make fun of me sometimes,” Pieper said while laughing. “I was 23 when I got here and only two weeks into the season, I turned 24. So, they made fun of me that I am the grandma on the team. It’s great. I get along with them really well.”
Even though Pieper is unstoppable on the field, leading the team with 14 goals and 34 points, she had to acclimate herself to the team’s pre-game routines.
“In Germany, we never put our hands together and say something like, ‘Team on three,’” Pieper said. “Or before the game, we run from the other side of the pitch and all of the starters get in one line and we touch the line, then come together to say motivational words.”
When it comes to pre-game music in the locker room, Pieper knows that her playlist won’t be chosen.
“My favorite song is a German song,” Pieper said. “But I can’t put it on here. Everyone would say, ‘Boo, boo,’ so I say, ‘Okay, okay.’ We stick to our SoundCloud playlist.”
As for what Pieper brings to the team when it comes to ability, Stevens said Pieper is the whole package.
“She plays in the midfield for us,” Stevens said. “That is the engine because they play from end line to end line. Because she has such a high-fitness profile, she is able to play most of the minutes in the game and we don’t really have to take her out. It’s like in basketball, did Breanna Stewart ever come out? No.”
Right now, the Huskies (10-1) are No. 5 in the nation after dropping their first game since 2016. Their 4-2 loss to Maryland on Sunday snapped the team’s 33-game winning streak. The Huskies are honing in on their weaknesses, which includes improving on pressing, outletting, defensive corners and getting more penalty corners.
“Failure forces you to re-examine what you are doing,” Stevens said. “And we need to improve in a number of different areas. When you are winning all of your games, that doesn’t become apparent. You just think you are better than you are.”
The loss has also enabled the team to appreciate each win and not take them for granted. Pieper said she thinks people assume it is simple to win in field hockey.
“I feel like everyone on campus is interested in field hockey,” Pieper said. “But every time I talk to somebody, they say, ‘Oh, yeah you girls win all the time anyways.’ They make it sound easy, but we put in so much work. I think everyone appreciates what we are doing, but they think it is easy for us and that is not the case.”
The hard work that that the team puts in includes practice every day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., which doesn’t include looking over film and traveling for away games. Pieper, who is an educational psychology major, has had to adjust to a rigorous homework schedule as well as an intense field hockey schedule.
“It’s pretty tough,” Pieper said of her schedule. “I have three courses I go to and one course online. I just had to get used to it for the first two to three weeks because it is completely different than in Germany. I wasn’t used to weekly assignments. There is much more work here.”
Once she graduates from UConn after this year, Pieper plans on playing for Germany in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Then, she will try to play field hockey for as long as she can before she puts her psychology major to work.
Stevens said that Pieper has instilled valuable experience on this young team, which starts four freshmen and two sophomores, and she expects the younger players to continue to learn from her as the season progresses.
“She sets the tempo at practice because she plays at such a high energy,” Stevens said. “She leads by example and is someone that all the players look up to … A rising tide lifts all boats and she is basically our rising tide.”
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.