USA Olympic hopefuls Maddie Zimmer and Ashley Sessa spent time at the PA Field Hockey Cup to ‘pass the torch’ of inspiration to the next generation of field hockey stars

Ashley Sessa and Maddie Zimmer had some things in common long before they became teammates on the United States Women’s National field hockey team.


They were both Pennsylvania residents, and not surprisingly, they both loved field hockey as pre-teens and teens, and they played it well.


Before anyone knew who they were and they knew each other, they both looked up to the same player – Katie Bam – whom they had met at separate functions. Bam, the former Wissahickon High star who went on to play on a USWNT that reached the quarterfinals in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, made an impression on Sessa and Zimmer when the two were burgeoning talents.


Funny how things work out. Sessa and Zimmer are now in Bam’s cleats. They regularly meet young players at clinics and other events, not knowing who will remember them forever. As they see it, it’s now their time to keep the stick and ball rolling on passing down the tradition.


*US Field Hockey Athlete Ashley Sessa tries out the SkillzMachine at the PA Field Hockey Senior Cup. Photo: John Pavoncello


Sessa and Zimmer flew in from training in Charlotte, N.C. this past weekend to appear at the Inaugural PA Field Hockey Senior Cup, hosted by Female Athlete News at Lower Dauphin Middle School.


The event was almost literally in Zimmer’s hometown backyard. She grew up five minutes away in Hershey. They saw it as a chance to do for the girls, who came to see them, what Bam did for Sessa and Zimmer many years earlier.


“I love it because just a couple of years ago, I was in the same situation as [today’s younger players],” Sessa said. “I loved meeting the national team. There’s a picture of me with Katie Bam when I was 7-years-old. I had my little USA glitter sign. Knowing how I felt, I know how these kids feel. Giving back to the community is something I love to do. I love seeing their smiles.”


Bam still has the photo and the memories of both of them.


“It’s awesome to hear I was an inspiration for the girls who are currently on the team,” Bam said. “I often see the photo of tiny Ashley Sessa and me in uniform after a game. Since I was in the area training, I watched quite a few of these girls grow up. I remember watching Ashley and Maddie as well as a few others from the area and seeing their unique talent and thinking, ‘I’m going to see them in a USA Jersey in the future.’ … While they might have been excited to see me, the feeling was mutual to see future Olympians in the making.”


“It’s super cool,” Zimmer said. “I remember being in [the young players] shoes and any chance to meet any national team member when they were at The Nook (Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim) was just super awesome. I was star-struck. I didn’t really want to talk to them because I was so nervous. It’s really cool to be on the other side of that and give back…to be back and watching the next generation of girls play here is really neat.”


Zimmer and Sessa will be teammates at Northwestern University starting this Fall. But first, they have that huge thing in Paris.


The United States went 4-1 to finish second place in the January 13-19 Olympic qualifier in India. This will be the first U.S appearance in the Olympics since Bam’s team went to the quarterfinals in 2016.


Sessa said that the U.S.’s return to prominence happened basically because the program focused on team development and keeping everyone together. Sessa is still just 19-years-old and has been on the U.S. roster for nearly three years.


“We had a couple of rebuilding years,” said Sessa, who is from Schwenksville and attended Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square. “We took in a lot of young players, me included, and  a lot of college girls. Something I think we’ve done that has changed the program around was definitely bringing in the college girls and keeping them there because it’s hard to go back and forth from college to the national team. Keeping everything centralized and building such a strong culture has a major thing to do with where we are now. It’s going to keep making us better and make us one team.”


*US Athlete Maddie Zimmer signs an autograph at the PA Field Hockey Senior Cup for an aspiring field hockey athlete. Photo: John Pavoncello


“It is difficult when you have people coming in and out of the system,” Zimmer said. “It’s helpful to be fully centralized and play with the team five days a week for several months. That made us better players and integrated us with the team a little bit better and it’s definitely paid off on the international stage.”


The U.S. is having a good year on the women’s side so far.  The national indoor team, consisting almost exclusively of Pennsylvania natives, recently won the Pan Am Cup in Calgary. That team is headed to the Indoor World Cup in 2025.


“We have the facilities [to be successful],” Sessa said. “We have the clubs. Growing the game is something we’ve been working to do for such a long time. I’ve worked with Cape Cod Field Hockey, teams in Virginia, North Carolina clubs. Being able to expand the sport and grow it and just do something for the sport as a whole.”


“We went through a period where the team was ranked No. 5 in the world,” Zimmer said. “It was amazing.  There was some turnover and we didn’t have some longevity on the staff we probably needed at the time. Having David Passmore (since 2022) around for at least 2028 will start that turnaround. We’ve already seen the effects of having a centralized program. It can only get better.”


The U.S. was going to be in the Olympics, anyway, in 2028 because the games will be held in Los Angeles. The host country gets automatic qualifiers. The qualification for the Paris games merely sped up the timetable.


“I really think it’s that coming together as a team,” Zimmer said. “When you’re going through the system, there’s a lot of individual selection for teams. You’re kind of pulling through the process individually. It’s all about, ‘Can I be on the next team’ or ‘Can I get into college?’ This is one of the few times that it has been focused solely on the team’s effort. You didn’t see that individuality in India. That helped us qualify. We were finally playing like a real team, which was awesome to see.”


That’s the basic fundamental that every team, from middle school through the Olympic team, strives for. Zimmer said that she remembers looking up to other national team members, such as Rachel Dawson, who now works with USA Field Hockey.


*US Field Hockey Athlete Maddie Zimmer talks to team Pittsburgh prior to the PA Field Hockey Senior Cup championship game. Photo: John Pavoncello


“I get to talk to her as a player now,” Zimmer said. “I don’t think a 10-year-old me would ever believe that.”


Like Sessa, Zimmer understands her role in the cycle of influence.


“It really is an honor to be invited to come back here to a place where I grew up playing,” Zimmer said. “I used to go to coach (Linda) Kreiser’s Red Rose camp. To come back to that stomping ground and give back to those girls is really unique.  I want to be continually supportive of growing the game. And showing the girls that making the Olympics is possible.”


“You always think about passing on the torch when you finally hang up the boots, and I think this generation of Olympians has done an amazing job at inspiring the next generation,” Bam said. “They do a great job at giving us a small glimpse into their lives through social media and genuine interaction at events like these. The younger generation is lucky to have such great role models. I hope they know the future and the past Olympians are excited and ready to cheer them on in a few months time on the greatest stage they will ever experience.”


Tim Shoemaker is a freelance writer.

Top photo: US Athletes Ashley Sessa and Maddie Zimmer set up on GeoSurfaces Northeast turf for media interviews. Photo: John Pavoncello

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