Ocean City graduate and University of Maryland student Natalie Hunter began her USA Field Hockey career while in the seventh grade.
But the 21-year old Marmora resident seems to be starting all over again.
After several years of sacrifice and an early to start to college, Hunter was one of 30 women selected to the U.S. National Team on May 30.
The goalie, who guided the Terrapins to the NCAA Division I semifinals last season, made the Mid-Atlantic South Regional team this spring, an achievement that allowed her to compete at the national team tryouts in Norfolk, Va., from May 23-29.
"I'm on the national team, but I have to earn my spots for the tour," Hunter said.
Hunter, who was also a member of the 2011-2012 under-21 U.S. National Team, was on her way to a summer class around 9 a.m. at Maryland when she received the e-mail from U.S. field hockey coach Craig Parnham on her cell phone.
Without hesitation, Hunter skipped to the bottom of the e-mail to see if her name was on the list. She saw her name along with those of Maryland teammates Ali McEvoy and Jill Witmer, and alumna Katie O'Donnell.
"I was by myself and I had to go class," she said. "It was probably the hardest three hours of my life because I couldn't talk to anyone until after class."
Goalies Jackie Kintzer and Alesha Widdall are veteran goalies on the team. Hunter will compete with them for a spot on the 18-woman roster that will head to the International Hockey Federation's World League semifinal June 22-30 in London. In the meantime, she will train at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, leading to her latest sacrifice - early graduation.
After accepting the invitation to the U.S. National team, Hunter had to drop the summer class she attended the day she found out she made it. She also had to push back her graduation time. Hunter walked with the Ocean City class of 2010 but left them that January to begin her college career early.
"I gave up a lot growing up, like going to dances and other high school activities, because this was one of my dreams," Hunter said. "I graduated high school early because of field hockey. So I made choices growing up to make sure my dream came true, and now that it has, it doesn't feel real. It really is the best feeling. But it doesn't end here, it keeps going and I have to keep working hard. This is just the beginning."
At Ocean City, Hunter started in goal as a freshman. She earned Press Honorable Mention honors her freshman and sophomore years and was a first-team Press All-Star as a junior and senior. Hunter tied the Ocean City record for most career shutouts (51), including 15 as a senior.
Hunter is the third Ocean City graduate to have earned a spot on the U.S. National Field Hockey team, along with goalie and 1992 graduate Shelly Meister and 1998 graduate Abbey Woolley. All three played under former longtime coach Trish LeFever.
"I was thrilled (to hear the news)," LeFever said in a phone interview last week. "Natalie is a tremendous competitor and an incredible athlete. It was not surprising to me in the least, and it's nice to hear it's all coming together for her."
Hunter paced Maryland to an 18-6 overall record and 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference mark. The Terps fell to eventual champion Princeton 3-2 in overtime in the national semifinals. Hunter played the entire game and made five saves. Maryland finished No. 6 overall in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Poll.
She anchored a defense that allowed just 34 goals all season. Hunter finished with 3.4 shutouts and a 1.64 goals-against average, ranking among the top three in the ACC in both categories. She totaled 66 saves and had a .688 save percentage.
"It feels good to be able to represent Ocean City and also Mrs. LeFever and all of the hard work she put into the team when she was head coach," Hunter said. "I've gotten a lot of support from older players, like Abbey Woolley. She messaged me on Facebook and said 'Congratulations and way to represent Ocean City.' So it was really great to see the support from everyone at Ocean City."
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