PhD student Natalie Konerth called up to US hockey team

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Durham University PhD student Natalie Konerth spent the Christmas break undergoing intense trials for reselection onto the USA’s national hockey development squad.

Originally from Huntington, Maryland, Konerth previously played for American University in Washington D.C., achieving the title of ‘Patriot League Scholar Athlete’ in 2016. She has since been based in Durham, achieving a MA concerning internal and external training load measures in female hockey athletes over the course of the past two years. Now, her focus turns to even lengthier research on the subject as she begins a three-year PhD in Sports and Exercise Science, also with Durham.

The Ustinov student identifies her achievement as an “incredibly exciting opportunity” to continue training and learning within the US hockey system. As a regular on the DUHC first squad, she is additionally grateful for the role her coaches and teammates have held in both “supporting and challenging” her progress over the past three years, with the “love and encouragement from afar” provided by her family carrying her along this hockey journey. 

Durham was her first choice due to the “world-class coaches” on offer and its influx of international and national level athletes, not to mention the availability of “exceptional academics”. Furthermore, Team Durham maintains a reputation as the top team-sports university in the UK, with DUHC participating in both the top-tier of and, on weekends, the National League. 

The choice to attend a British university is one undertaken by many overseas athletes due to the stricter rules regarding age-groups in the US. Having reached the maximum four years she could play for US universities, Konerth was required to look elsewhere to aid her hockey development. Unlike the UK, the US does not possess an adult hockey club system, with undergraduates unable to take opportunities to play or develop once they achieve their primary degree.

Moreover, in the US, the official season lasts from August to November, with matches played more sporadically. In the UK, however, the competitive season begins in September, with a break over Christmas before continuing until March or April. Outside of this, teams often additionally play in indoor leagues, summer mixed competitions, seven-a-side games and rush hockey. 

Each US university has only one hockey team, whilst Durham maintains five female and five male ‘DU’ squads, plus a further sixteen belonging to each college. Moreover, here in the UK there is a substantial hockey network, with over 841 clubs affiliated to England Hockey alone (not including Scotland, Ireland and Wales). Most clubs possess at least three men’s and women’s squads, with the larger clubs possessing up to six teams and often ‘striders and strollers’ veteran divisions. England Hockey can also boast a real surge forward in support of Access Sport, developing ‘Flyerz’ sections, a division focused on disability inclusion. 

The environment of British hockey is one which Konerth adores, with enthusiastic team-mates, a continuous presence of hockey opportunities and, somehow here in Durham, less drastic weather conditions to contend with.

Konerth is known to be found on the pitch during any free moment, renowned for her “aerial” abilities, powerful flick, pig-tails and sheer determination. With the aim to climb further up the US Hockey ladder, Konerth “can’t wait” to participate alongside “so many fantastic athletes” over the next year and take another step towards her goals.

Image: Durham University Hockey Club

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