When Victoria Stratton left Cockle Bay for America in 2012, she was looking for an opportunity to get out of her comfort zone.
Five years later, it is safe to say the 24-year-old hockey player has long buried that goal in the back of the net.
Last year, after four years playing for the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Stratton was named an All-American field hockey player – a prestigious award that recognises the best field hockey players for the year across the whole of the country.
The All-American title is for all recognised sports in the United States, not just hockey, and those chosen for each sport are selected into a non-playing team.
“Being named All-American in my last year of playing was the final reward for all the hard work I had put in over the four years,” Stratton says.
“I think it is also a great credit to my coaches, team mates and supporting staff for all the work and support they gave me. Without this I would not have reached the potential I was able to.”
Her US adventure started when she was offered a full athletic scholarship for four years at the University of Louisville.
She had represented Auckland, played premier women’s hockey for Howick Pakuranga and 1st XV hockey for Saint Kentigern College, but the US posed new challenges, both on and off the field.
“When first coming to America it was a bit of a culture shock, but the people in Louisville as well as the teammates, coaches and supporting staff at the university made my transition from New Zealand very easy for me,” Stratton says.
She says she also had “amazing support” from her family and close friends back home.
“My parents were my biggest support system that made this opportunity possible as well as continuing to support me along this journey I am still on in America.”
Stratton says the biggest difference between playing hockey in New Zealand and the US is the emphasis on fitness and strength in America. “In New Zealand a lot of our practices were focused on the more tactical aspect of the game.
Coming to America there is a big focus on training to be the fittest and strongest team physically as well as the technical aspects of playing.” Playing defence and mainly centre back, Stratton travelled all around the country with the University of Louisville Cardinals for four years, two of them as captain, and during that time worked towards a bachelor’s degree majoring in exercise science.
She says there were many highlights during those years, in particular beating the University of North Carolina (UNC) – the country’s number one team – in 2014 as captain at the University of Louisville’s home stadium.
Now a large banner with her name, an action photograph of her playing, and the title “All-American” hangs on the wall of that field hockey stadium.
Stratton says every home game in Louisville was played in front of 300-400 people and that young children from the city came to the games and even waited afterwards for autographs.
Last year, after completing her degree, she was offered a further period of study and the opportunity to work as a volunteer coach at the University of Louisville.
Stratton will complete a bachelor’s degree in physical education teaching in May this year.
She misses her friends, family and dog back here in New Zealand, and also misses living within walking distance to beaches, but says she loves the “friendly and supportive” city she lives in. “Luckily I have an amazing support group here in Louisville that has allowed me to feel right at home,” Stratton says.
She says she would like to pursue a master’s degree in physical education teaching before finding a job in the US and working there for a few years before heading back to New Zealand.
Victoria Stratton’s US achievements
2012 – Freshman Essence Award, named on Big East Honour Roll, played 20 games for the Louisville Cardinals with 19 starts.
2013 – Started all 20 games for the Louisville Cardinals, named on Big East Honour Roll, named on-field captain, named on Athletic Director’s Honour Roll.
2014 – Played 21 games for the Louisville Cardinals with 19 starts, named captain, named on Athletic Director’s Honour Roll, named on Dean’s List.
2015 – Started all games for the Louisville Cardinals, captain, named Longstretch/NFHCA All-American, named in Longstretch/NFHCA All-West Region First Team, named in All-ACC First Team, named in All-ACC Academic First Team, played in the NFHCA Division 1 Senior Game, named on Athletic Director’s Honour Roll, completed a bachelor’s degree majoring in exercise science.
2016 – Offered another three semesters of study and the opportunity to work as a volunteer coach at the university.
2017 – Will complete a bachelor’s degree in physical education teaching at the University of Louisville in May.