BLACKSTONE — With its beautiful scenery along with its koala bears and kangaroos, Ashley Caouette always wondered what it would be like to study abroad in Australia.
In her three years at Bridgewater State University, Caouette never got that opportunity.
She never got the opportunity to get to the “Down Under” as a student, that is.
In early June, the former Blackstone-Millville Regional student/athlete finally got her wish to visit the Down Under. Caouette was among 10 U.S. field hockey players chosen to compete in the country’s annual Victorian Country Tournament, held in the city of Geelong, less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne.
Playing on the lone American squad in the 18-team field, Caouette and her teammates made the trip worthwhile, coming home with the hardware by defeating the Grampians of the host city by a score of 3-1.
“It felt really good to be in a different country, playing with people I was never used to playing with and to come out with a tournament victory,” she said. “It felt good to represent the U.S.”
The 21-year-old player found out about her chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity back in November. Caouette, a top defenseman for Bridgewater where she had earned Little East Player of the Week this fall and was also named to the All-Academic Team, was chosen by her college coach [Erica Smith] to be among the players that would be representing the U.S. in the tournament. The cost for each player was about $5,000.
“I found out [about making the team] right after the season ended,” said Caouette, who was the only player from New England on a squad that consisted mainly of players from the east coast. “Right away, I wanted to go. I had always wanted to study abroad, but my parents wouldn’t let me go. I told them for this I’ll raise the $5,000.”
Through several fundraising endeavors with family and friends, Caouette managed to raise the money needed to make the trip a reality. This year was the first time that the U.S. was able to field a squad for the tourney.
“In the past, there hasn’t really been enough interest to field a team to go over there,” Caouette said. “It’s probably because it’s kind of expensive. From my end, I really want to go and was able to fundraise for the money. We had 10 Americans on the team and we were able to play two Australians and one New Zealander so we could have subs.”
During her two-week stay in Australia, Caouette learned a lot about the country and its customs. She also learned that field hockey is taken a little more seriously Down Under than it is in the states.
The sport is enjoyed by men and women, who begin honing their skills at a young age.
“There is absolutely a difference,” Caouette said. “Down in Australia, it seems like they are raised to play field hockey. We played a youth [age] 15 state team that I feel could have played for a Division I college program. There were people as old as 40 that were amazingly good. They have a lot more skill and control on the field.”
The Victorian Country Tournament consisted of two brackets of nine teams each. The U.S. squad, under the helm of Oberlin (Ohio) College coach Deb Ranieri, didn’t start off too well, losing their opening-round game. It got better from there.
“We only had about two days of practice before the game and a lot of us had never played together,” Caouette said. “In those couple of practices the coaches were seeing how we work together. We ended up losing the first game, but by the second or third game everything clicked. We figured out how to play with each other.”
The former BMR standout, who was a three-year starting midfielder for recently-retired and longtime coach Sharon Dupre, cherished her experience in Australia and the friends she made. Capturing the overall tourney was a highlight, but also playing the youth team was something that still sticks in Caouette’s mind.
“I just couldn’t get over how good they were at that age,” she said. “In middle school, none of us had any skills close to what they had.”
With a truckload of knowledge gained from her trip, Caouette is looking forward even more for her final season at Bridgewater In the fall. This past season, the Bears made it to the Little East Championship game for the first time, losing a close 3-1 decision to UMass-Dartmouth. Bridgewater also played in the ECAC Championship where it was ousted by Plymouth State in the finals.
“We lost our starting goalie, our leading scorer and three other seniors that were all starters,” Caouette said. “We are losing some strong players, but I’m pretty sure the players we have coming back we’ll definitely step up and we’ll be strong again next year.”
Winning in Australia certainly has her thinking the same at the Massachusetts’ college.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I want that for my team. It felt good to win a championship and it’s a feeling I want to have with the Bridgewater team.”