Sayaka Abe of Women’s Field Hockey and Ben Swanger of Men’s Soccer are known as leaders on and off the field. In her career at UR, Abe has garnered Liberty League All-Academic selections and has been named to the first team, All-Liberty League. Swanger has earned selections to the UAA All-Academic team and scored a post-season game-winner during his sophomore year.
How did you first get involved in field hockey, and what inspired you to continue playing in college?
I started playing field hockey in middle school on the modified team. All my friends were doing it, so I just went along with it and ended up loving it. I think when I started playing in high school, I realized how much I love it, and the thought of not playing after high school was the worst thing in the world. That’s when I started playing in clubs, in USA Field Hockey’s Futures program, and I started playing year round. My coaches were all supportive and helped in the recruiting process, which made it a lot easier.
How would you describe your role on the team?
I play center midfield, so I get to basically be involved in every play, which I love. I help connect the defense and offense, the left and the right sides, and direct the movement of the play. As a captain, I try to inspire everyone by leading by example and bringing everyone’s level of play up. It’s really an honor being a captain—to know that people support me and that I can easily turn to all of them for help if I ever need it.
Last season, UR field hockey had a very successful run—making it to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals and ending 18–6. Are there any major changes that the team plans to make this year?
We had a great season last fall and we have so much to be proud of, but we definitely have our eyes set on the great things we can do this season. Right now, it’s a lot of adapting to new players and a new formation. We have a brand new team—we lost six seniors and have brought in eight amazing freshmen. I think we are very capable of adapting to new situations, so I’m excited to see what we can bring with this new group.
What would you like to accomplish before the end of your UR field hockey career?
I think the biggest thing I’d love to accomplish before the end is to win the Liberty League Championship. We’ve been so close year after year, so it’s something I’ve been wanting since freshmen year. I think my classmates would also agree. We know our conference well, we know we’re capable of being the best, so we just have to produce.
What was it like to transition from a high school varsity program to a Division III college team?
It was a big change of pace, but I loved it. I went from a team where maybe two others were as passionate about the sport as I am, to an entire team of girls who shared my passions and were excited to be playing with every opportunity. Freshmen season was definitely really fun, just because every opponent was new. I got to go into every game without any past perceptions and just play my game.
Looking back, what advice would you give your freshman self when it comes to field hockey?
Don’t be afraid to be your best version of yourself from day one. Don’t let the title “freshmen” hold you back and own everything you have with confidence.
Would you rather go bungee jumping with Jon Stewart or Amy Schumer?
This is embarrassing. I recognize those names, but I don’t know who they are. I’ve heard Amy Schumer is hilarious, so I guess her.
What made you choose to play soccer at UR?
There were several different reasons. First, my father attended school and played soccer at UR. Second, I was excited to play soccer with my older brother, Alex, for two years. And finally, UR is a top DIII program in the country, as the school itself offers an amazing education.
After being selected as captain as a junior and being named to the 2nd Team All-UAA and All-ECAC teams, what would consider to be the greatest achievement in your soccer career thus far?
My greatest accomplishment so far has been making it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament my freshman year.
What will be the biggest challenge for the team this season?
Coming back strong after the disappointment and inconsistency of last year’s season.
How is it having your older brother and former teammate, Alex Swanger, as your assistant coach?
It’s really just the same as when he was a teammate. It is definitely good to have him around, and he has a lot to offer to the team as coach.
What do you hope to accomplish this season—both for yourself and for the team?
We hope to earn our spot back in the NCAA tournament this year.
As a senior captain, is there anything you plan to do differently this season compared to during your underclassman years?
I hope to help make this team a closer-knit group, on and off the field.
Would you rather get Chipotle with Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt?
I would love to get lunch with both of them. But honestly, I would choose Chipotle with my friend and teammate David Gang any day over Phelps and Bolt.