Penn State Harrisburg empowers first college field hockey athlete with Down syndrome; meet rising star Maggie Kutz

Maggie Kutz is a barrier breaker.


The 21-year-old started playing field hockey when she was five years old. She’s participated in the Red Rose field hockey club, which was founded and is operated by Linda Kreiser, legendary Lower Dauphin High School field hockey coach.


She played throughout middle school and again in high school for Kreiser. Kreiser retired in March.


Most recently, the field hockey trailblazer, had a full circle moment when she started in a game against Red Rose in early October, and scored a penalty stroke for Penn State Harrisburg in its first scrimmage against the club.


Maggie is such a big deal because she has Down syndrome. And, as a second-year student at Penn State Harrisburg, she jumped at the chance to join a brand-new team that starts its first NCAA-sanctioned Division III regular season schedule in 2024.


Maggie, one could say, likes to shatter any illusion that she can’t keep up.


“I thought I wanted to try new things and get to know other people,” Maggie said. “I like making new friends, playing with them.”


Her mom affectionately calls her Mags. And, Mags said the Nittany Lion environment in Middletown has been “fun.”


“I shot my first goal on a stroke,” Maggie said. “And, it felt great.”



She’s not alone in her excitement. She has a rapidly growing fan-club, who sees her as a person. As far as her family, friends, and supporters are concerned, the sky’s the limit for Maggie.


“Maggie Kutz already knew all the field hockey skills,” Penn State Harrisburg head field hockey coach AJ Misselhorn said. “She came with all the field hockey skills, understands what it’s like to be on a team. So, really fortunate to get players from high level programs like Lower Dauphin.”


Misselhorn had zero hesitation about Maggie joining the team. That’s a high compliment coming from a woman who has coached at the Division I level and played at Wake Forest University.


Texas-native, Wake Forest grad, and former DI coach at Temple and Indiana, AJ Misselhorn is ready to coach Penn State Harrisburg’s first DIII field hockey team – FAN (


“[It was] a special moment to start her in our first game ever in the history of Penn State Harrisburg field hockey,” Misselhorn said. “She’s been very dedicated and committed to our team. At all of our practices, she works hard, she does great drills. And, I wanted to give her that privilege of starting the first game. And she just kept it up and played awesome that day.”


When the head coaching position became available at Penn State Harrisburg earlier this year, Misselhorn said part of its attraction to her was how much the school focused on inclusivity. She said she thought it was the right place for her to continue coaching, where she could be afforded the opportunity to meet athletes like Maggie, who are “opening up doors for other players.”


“We’re really happy to be able to give that ability to both Maggie and then hopefully other players in the future,” Misselhorn said. “She is one-of-kind. But, I think again she’s breaking glass ceilings and we’re hoping that trying to get her name out there [will] help her open up opportunities for other athletes like her. Really just amazing. I think there’s a lot to learn from Maggie.”


Both Misselhorn and Lydia Smeltz describe Maggie as a hard-working athlete. She’s predictable. Team-spirited. Reliable. Smeltz offered Maggie an opportunity to coach field hockey for the PA Revs All Starz, which is the adaptive team within the PA Revolution Field Hockey Club program based in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania.


Smeltz connected Misselhorn to Maggie.


“A lot of sports are based on winning and goals scored and that’s not what it should be about,” Misselhorn said. “There’s a lot of great positive things that come from sports and it’s not all about the goal scorers. And, I think having athletes like Maggie on our team, um, helps us remember why we’re out here, why we love field hockey, why we love sports. And, so Maggie’s that daily reminder for us every day.”


Smeltz, who connected with Long Island Field Hockey, to launch the second-ever inclusive hockey program in the nation, is hoping that Maggie continues to be the trendsetter.


“This hasn’t been done,” Smeltz said. “It hasn’t been done for a reason. For AJ to be the first one to do this says a lot about her and her confidence in Maggie and Maggie’s skills. I think, in some ways, one of Maggie’s skills is she’s very consistent.”


Smeltz said she couldn’t be any prouder of Maggie for her successful collegiate debut.


“I always see her practicing her shots and her reverses, so I know she’s putting in the extra work with everyone else,” Smeltz said. “I think that’s what’s important to remember is somebody will show you what they’re capable of, but you have to give them the opportunity for them to show you. So, we can make assumptions about what those of us might do around us. But, if we never give them the opportunity, we won’t be able to see what their strengths and weaknesses are, and she has clearly shown what her strengths are.”


Just like any parent who walks down memory lane when their child starts playing a sport in college, Meg Kutz can vividly remember Maggie’s introduction to field hockey.


“She started playing Red Rose through Linda Kreiser’s camp when she was little,” Meg said. “And, as a young mom with a child with Down syndrome, typically when we did things with Mags, we would get there and there would be a lot of questions. And, people would be asking does she need help. And, um, I’ll never forget, we walked into Red Rose, and I walked up to the registration table and Linda Kreiser didn’t even look at me, she did not make eye contact. And, she said, welcome to Red Rose Field Hockey Mags, go to field 7. And from that moment, I knew that field hockey would be a place where she would thrive and be accepted and included. And here we are all these years later, she’s 21 playing college field hockey.”



‘A lot of their parents never envisioned that their kid would be an athlete,’ Lydia Smeltz on PA Revs All Starz – FAN (


Vic Kutz, who is a senior at Lower Dauphin and committed to play at The Ohio State University, said only she and her sister play. It didn’t run in the family. Mags started the love of the sport for them.


“I learned so much,” Vic said. “Playing with her for one year when she was a senior and I was a freshman in high school, obviously it looks different for both of us. I’m like doing my best in summer to work super hard. I’m trying to do my best in the stupid running tests and, like, she’s like walking her laps around the field, just like staring at me like, [saying] ‘uh huh, keep going. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ But, like, she was just as part of the team as I was, and like, it’s just so cool to see.”


One of Vic’s best memories of the Kutz duo in high school was Maggie’s encouragement when the team would practice defensive corners.


“Maggie would stand right behind the cage and she’d yell at me and say, ‘get out there Vic, get out there,” she said. “And, I mean, she just pushes me to be better every day. She comes to every single one of my high school games and she just makes us all better.”



Meg and her husband Eric are proud parents of three athletes. Their son plays college baseball, Vic is headed off to play college field hockey next season, and now Mags is taking it upon herself to be the first known Division III college field hockey athlete who has Down syndrome.


“I just think sometimes people have a perception of what people can and cannot do,” Meg said. ”And, I think AJ showed that, like, if you look at everybody the same and you give them an opportunity, there’s a lot of things they can do. They can play field hockey in college. And, so I think just looking at others and including them, and whatever that means, whether it’s on a college field hockey team, whether that’s in the work force, whether that’s in a social group, whether that’s in your neighborhood; it’s just being inclusive and being kind to others. What AJ is doing is really neat. We’re really proud of Maggie. Her teammates are amazing.”


Mags is a student-athlete. Her advisors are also part of her fan section.


“Maggie has embraced all things about Penn State,” careers study coordinator Sandy McBride said. “She does all the activities. She’s in scuba class. Photography class. She just goes full steam. Does everything she’s supposed to do. She’s a quiet, gentle soul. She’s a wonderful kind being and being part of the field hockey team even seems to have brightened her more.”


McBride and Amber Brisbane, career study assistant coordinator, said that Penn State’s mission is to support students like Maggie, but remind them and their parents that they are just as capable of being independent as any enrolled student on campus. They said that Maggie’s drive to try her best inspires them and others, too.


“What we find with some of our protective parents is they don’t let the students learn the lessons on their own,” McBride said. “Any parent with any child, you want the child to get wings and go. You need to get out and do things. Sadly, a lot of parents with students with special needs they feel they need to protect them all the time. But what we have found is the amazingness of every single student we have is the potential they have if given the opportunity.”


October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. And, while Maggie has Down syndrome, it doesn’t limit her from living her best life.


“She’s definitely a better hockey player, too, now,” Vic said. “I mean, sometimes she would, like, run away from the ball. At the games the other day, she’s running towards it, she’s in the right spots, when she got the ball. She, like, knows exactly what to do with it. Like, I think that was another thing. Like, she’s progressed so much in that aspect, too, not just like, in the ways we all think, like her just getting on the field. Girl scored a stroke, so I mean she’s legit.”


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