Kianna Dawson. PHOTOS/FILE
A lucrative athletics scholarship with a prestigious American university is a dream come true for one of Wairarapa’s rising hockey stars.
St Matthew’s Collegiate student Kianna Dawson has scored the four-year deal to play hockey, or field hockey as it is known in the US, and study for a Bachelor of Science at the University of Connecticut [Uconn] from August 2022.
Uconn is in the town of Storrs, about a 90-minute drive from Boston and is rated as the best public national university in New England and is tied for 23rd in the “top public schools” in the US.
The average ranking for women’s hockey over the past four years is number four in the NCAA division one, and coupled with the high academic rating, Dawson said it provides a good balance for her academic and hockey ambitions.
“They have so many coaches on board, nutritionists, and professional training plans, so you’re really treated like a proper athlete over there. I really wanted to get involved with a highly competitive aspect of it and work at the high intensity that they do,” Dawson said.
“The hard training, I think I will enjoy it. I do like to work hard, and it makes me feel really good and that I’ve accomplished something. I’m very competitive as well, so it’s just a perfect fit for me.”
There is also the potential within her scholarship of a study abroad programme, which could lead to her adding a period of study in another country more noted for its hockey.
The 18-year-old’s potential was recognised in August when she was named for the Under-18 national programme as part of Hockey NZ’s performance network. It is the first step in identifying players for future national representation.
She has been a key defender in the Farriers Dalefield Wellington premiership side for the past two years and she is likely to remain in the centreback role for Uconn.
However, Dawson is anticipating a drop in standard from the level she has experienced in New Zealand.
“It’s not as strong as New Zealand, but they have a really fast game compared to everyone else, and with international-like intensity but not necessarily that high skill level. But I think that the tempo and the way they train is at a very, very high level.”
She feels that having played for Dalefield in the strong Wellington competition will hold her in good stead in the American environment.
“That’s given me so much experience and so much opportunity for me to learn.
“Playing with such experienced players, you can’t get away with anything that you could in school hockey, so it’s been really good to kind of discipline me and help me. It’s been good to compete at a high level where everyone else is good around you.”
Dawson hopes to be involved in the start of the two-time Wellington champion’s 2022 campaign before she departs in July or August and says when she does leave, it will be with a heavy heart.
“I think I will miss it quite a bit.
“I really do love the Dalefield team. It’s a really good culture as well, really supportive and a really fun competitive environment, being able to learn and grow and have so much fun at the same time. I will definitely miss all the people in the team.”
A big disappointment for Dawson though, was not being able to play for St Matthew’s in the Federation Cup, the national secondary schoolgirls’ premier trophy, for the past two years. The tournaments were cancelled because of covid-19.
“It was pretty gutting. I wasn’t too worried about it the first time because we had another tournament we were going to.
“But this year it’s hit a bit harder since we haven’t been there in two years, and there was no other tournament.
“I’m really hoping that next year it will go ahead, and the girls will get to go to Fed Cup because it’s a hard competition, and it’s the top schools in New Zealand.”
Dawson is uncertain if she will be able to pursue her other sporting love, handball, during the US hockey off-season.
After picking up the sport through her older sister Cassandra, who was playing in Otago, Dawson’s potential was realised with her selection in the 2021 national beach handball and indoor handball women’s squads.
“It’s definitely a growing sport, and we’re getting there with numbers and stuff, but we’ve got a really good programme at the moment that’s looking at a lot of development and getting numbers up to possibly in a couple of years really competing at Oceania and Asian champs.”
Dawson’s move to the US university hockey scene follows in the footsteps of ex-St Matt’s student Poppy Lambert, who has been a major part of the University of Maine’s successful season, having scored a team-high 15 goals.
Lambert was also a first-team All-America East selection after being on the All-Rookie team the previous season.
Dawson plans to work and save money before she departs in August to be able to travel during the university breaks.