‘I feel very, very lucky that Harvard saw me and decided I could fit in with their team,’ Hershey’s Cara Cronin on her college pick

Hershey’s Cara Cronin didn’t have Harvard on her college wish list.

She was focused on Georgetown and Duke. Her older sister, who was her first field hockey youth coach, went to Georgetown and her brother is attending Duke.

When the junior was allowed to start engaging in formal conversations June 15, she received phone calls from Princeton, Georgetown, Boston College, Lafayette, and Syracuse. She was invited to camps at their campuses and accepted offers to visit Penn, Princeton, Georgetown, Stanford, and Syracuse.

But in a matter of four months, after participating in more camps, doing more research, and going on official visits, Cara deviated from her original plans. She decided in October to send Harvard’s coaching staff game film of Hershey’s contests against Lower Dauphin. Hershey won 3-2 at LD and then 1-0 when the Trojans hosted.

Much to her surprise, Harvard’s interest in Cara was mutual.

“I feel very, very lucky that Harvard saw me and decided I could fit-in with their team,” Cara said.

Donna Cronin, Cara’s mom, recalls Harvard’s response vividly.

“They said, ‘we liked your video,’” Donna said. “‘We’d like to bring you in.’ And it was like, oh my God. How lucky is that? It was the LD game. Harvard liked it. Also lucky – when you go up, not only do you have to like them, but the coach and team have to like you, too.”

Exposure is a considerable part of being recruited. Cara, a junior, is featured on MAX Field Hockey’s site, where her stats have also been collected. Her club is PA United, and her high school is in District 3. Hershey is in one of the most competitive conferences in Pennsylvania – Mid-Penn Conference Keystone Division.

“The whole recruitment process, it’s not a magical formula,” Donna said. “It’s not a straight-forward process. There are all kinds of subjections, politics, timing.”

Timing was in Cara’s favor. She’s committed to Harvard’s admissions process. The 16-year-old Trojan has to wait until her senior year to start her paperwork.

“I already had offers from Georgetown and Syracuse when I finally committed to Harvard,” Cara said. “The decision was based on a lot of academics. You can’t get much better than Harvard. When I saw the team and the coaches, they were all so supportive of each other. He’s a very smart coach and very technical. He would tell you exactly what you need to change to become a better player.”

The recruiting process is “very demanding” and “very hard,” Cara said. But it’s time that should be valued.

“I just remember it was very hard with all the summer camps, but it’s also honestly the best time ever,” Cara said. “You just kind of have to embrace it. You’re experiencing all these campuses and coaches and coaching styles. Recruits should take it all in and not just wait for the feeling to be over.”

Her mom is the reason the youngest of seven had the opportunity to play hockey at a young age.

“I first started playing field hockey when I was 5,” Cara said. “My sister, who played at Georgetown, was my first coach at Hershey youth. She has been pushing me since day one. She taught me most of the things I know. My mother started the youth program when my sister was in third grade so she could play at Hershey. Those first graders in 2007, they were the first (Hershey) state champions in 2018.”

Donna played field hockey and lacrosse at Swarthmore. Fifteen years ago, she had three boys and one girl. She now has seven children.

Donna wanted her only daughter at the time to play field hockey. Palmyra had a youth league, Hershey did not. The drive back-and-forth between Hershey and Palmyra – a few miles – may not seem like it would be cumbersome, but it was for Donna. Her children were very active.

“I spoke to a friend,” Donna said. “I said, ‘we always lose to Palmyra and Lower Dauphin because we don’t have a youth program.’”

Donna reached out to some moms and created a recreational youth program in Hershey. In 2022, Hershey defeated Lower Dauphin twice and Palmyra once.

New England’s lure is also a family thing. The Cronins used to live in Boston.

“I’ve taken all my kids to Boston to check out all the campuses,” Donna said. “Harvard, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Tufts, (Boston University). We go up there with every kid and look at all the campuses. It was just kind of crazy fate that it worked out for Cara. It was totally out of her hands. Someone may like your video, someone else may not like your video. There’s so much left to chance.”

One of Cara’s brothers was accepted into Harvard in 2014, but he declined. Donna was also accepted in 1980, but she declined. Third time’s the charm for Cara.

“The city is gorgeous,” Cara said. “It’s so pretty. I love it. I have a brother at Northeastern. He can only say good things about it. He loves it up there.”

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