A New Zealand surprise

Chris Gates

Freshman Debbie Bell leads field hockey team offensively after coming across the ocean to Kent

Freshman forward Debbie Bell leads the Flashes in points and goals despite only starting nine games. Bell has lead the Flashes to their 12-4 record. Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Freshman forward Debbie Bell traveled halfway around the world to play for the Kent State field hockey team and hasn’t missed a beat, as she leads the Flashes in scoring with 15 goals and two assists this season.

She said she never expected her freshman season would play out the way it has but credits an overall team environment for her success.

“I’m pretty happy,” Bell said. “Just getting on the field was enough for me.

“I’m surprised, but I think it’s just the environment we’re in here. Everyone’s pushed to succeed.”

That environment is much different from the one Bell left in her home country of New Zealand, where she said field hockey doesn’t get the same attention as it does in the United States.

Bell started playing at 5 years old on the same team as her sister. In Hamilton, New Zealand, Bell’s hometown, very few women go on to play the sport after high school, which is one reason she may have decided to come to Kent State.

“It’s a more supportive environment here, I guess,” Bell said. “You’ve got a team where everyone’s professional about it. You are on the same wavelength, and you’ve got supportive coaches that do it as a profession.

“I think the professionalism of it all is why I tried to maybe come here.”

Added to that, fellow New Zealander Carla Johl, a freshman back on the team, made efforts to bring Bell to Kent State. After committing to play for the Flashes, Johl let Kent State coach Kathleen Schanne in on a little secret: Her friend Debbie had an interest in playing for the Flashes as well.

“In Debbie’s case, basically Carla Johl had e-mailed me during last fall and we pursued the lead,” Schanne said. ” . She said, ‘You know, my friend Debbie is really interested in coming,’ so Debbie contacted us.

“We’re really pleased to have her on board along with all the other freshmen. She’s been able to finish the ball for us and in some crucial games as well. So she’s been a great addition to our program.”

Bell has played in all 16 games this season, starting in nine of them. Her ability to produce on a consistent basis has helped the Flashes to a 12-4 (6-1 Mid-American Conference) record.

From Sept. 19 to Oct. 10, Bell amassed 23 points (11 goals and one assist) in a span of seven games. During that time, Bell scored the only four goals against No. 20 Albany in a 4-3 win, the only Kent State win over a ranked opponent this year.

With three games left to play in the regular season, Bell is eight points behind Missouri State junior Melissa Lantz for the MAC scoring title.

“I knew from recommendations and some video I had seen that she was a really good finisher and had some really strong qualities,” Schanne said. “So I was hoping that she could come in and contribute right away.”

With the Flashes holding on to first place in the MAC, it is apparent Bell is grateful to be playing at Kent State.

“It’s amazing,” Bell said. “I mean, I’ve been a part of successful teams back home, but I think the difference here is that we’re not just successful on the field. We’re successful off the field as well.

“It really excites you as a player to keep going and know that it (was) the right decision to be, well for me, across the other side of the world.”

The entire Kent State team is focused on the task ahead of it with three games to play and the subsequent MAC Tournament. But with a new contract for Schanne, and a large group of young talent on the squad, the Flashes are in a successful position to compete for a MAC title this year and in coming seasons.

“I think we’re losing some great players this year with our seniors, but that’s inevitable,” Bell said. “But the base of our team is still hugely there, and we’ve just got some amazing hockey players. I think we’ve got a very positive future, not just for the next three weeks, but for the next three years as well.”

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].