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Cherry Hill native bound for London Olympics

At 8 years old, Michelle Vittese began to play hockey, skates and all.

Even at a young age, Vittese realized she wasn’t like the rest of the players. And her dad noticed, too.

“My dad told me girls can’t go very far, and I’d have a better chance with field hockey,” she said.

As a fifth grader in Cherry Hill attending a Quaker school, there were limited opportunities for Vittese to get involved with field hockey.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Yuchen Nie/USA Field Hockey

Her physical education teacher happened to coach field hockey at a nearby school. Vittese was allowed to try out. And, well, the rest is history.

Vittese played in middle school and went on to continue her field hockey career at Camden Catholic High School.

Throughout her career, she said, Vittese dreamed of playing in college and beyond.

Her dreams of success began to come to fruition when she received an almost-full scholarship to attend and play field hockey at the University of Virginia.

The 5’3 midfielder received accolades throughout her college career, including All-American, NCAA and numerous conference titles.

And three years into playing for Virginia, Vittese got the news of a lifetime. She was selected to play on the 24-woman U.S. National Team.

“I’m very competitive, and I really didn’t want to stop,” Vittese said. ‘But the level is much higher, so it was a struggle for me in the beginning.”

The biggest adjustment for Vittese was getting used to being just one piece to the team puzzle.

“At first it was intimidating, going from being someone that matters to someone who really doesn’t,” Vittese said. “In college, you’re an integral part of the team. So it can be very hard on your ego.”

Now a few years into playing for Team USA, Vittese has formed friendships, made mistakes and learned from them, and stepped up her game.

Even with the momentum going, she still couldn’t believe the news last week – she was selected as one of 16 players who will make the trip to London in a few weeks to compete in the summer Olympics.

Yuchen Nie/USA Field Hockey

“It’s actually one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me,” Vittese said. “Representing our country, I’m so proud and honored. It’s exciting to share it with best friends and people who have been supportive up to this point.”

Vittese will make the trip with 15 other members of Team USA who were selected to play in the summer games. Vittese’s college teammate Paige Selenski will also play on the Olympic squad. The two are the first to rCherry epresent UVA in the Olympics.

“This is a celebratory moment for Paige and Michelle and all they have accomplished at the highest echelon of their sport,” said Virginia head coach Michele Madison. “Paige and Michelle possess the talent, intelligence and expertise to compete in a world arena for Team USA against the best athletes in the world. We are very proud they will be representing not only their country, but the University of Virginia as well.”

The team is currently practicing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, spending long hours, six days a week, running, lifting, sprinting and conditioning.

Before shipping off to London, the team will face No. 2 Argentina as part of its final pre-Olympic competition on June 30 at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The game will be broadcast live at 1:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network.

Soon after, the team is packing its bags for London. Vittese said she and her teammates are excited about the chance of a lifetime to compete in the Olympics.

“To have the Olympic experience…I’ve never experienced anything like it,” she said. “I really just want to see what this team is capable of.”

About Melissa DiPento

If it happens in Cherry Hill, I want to know about it. I'm a South Philly resident/South Jersey suburbanite and will see the story first-hand, even if that means riding my single-speed bike along Route 70. I especially enjoy writing about politics and sustainability.View all posts by Melissa DiPento