Hailey Couch was always the one to make a little noise when she was younger.
When Hailey’s father, Greg, allowed young Hailey Couch to turn his basement into a makeshift field hockey field, the noise became consistent. The basement – featuring a small scale regulation field, electrical tape outlines in the shape of a goal on the wall and a goalie made of a giant blue carpet cutout – was the hotbed of activity in Couch’s Pennsylvania neighborhood.
Most of the ruckus made in the basement came from Couch, who hit shots against the wall at all times of the night. She's always had a knack for competition and never missed the chance to get better at her choice sport. She said she lives for the moment when she plays and practices.
The basement became a space with no worries for Couch.
“I would play down there for hours,” Couch said. “It was my escape. I could go down there and play at any hour.”
It was in the wee hours in that basement where Couch, now a freshman at IU, forged her skillset. The countless reps of dribbling, shooting and passing the ball helped her develop her game to reach the level needed to play in college.
Growing up as the youngest of four competitive children, Couch took every chance she was given. Couch's brother Michael was a state hurdler finalist. Her sister Michelle played Division II field hockey at Slippery Rock University in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Her other brother Chris played soccer. None of that ever stopped Couch from competing with her siblings as a young kid.
“It was very competitive through sports and even just backyard games when we were younger,” Couch said. “I definitely say my siblings pushed me, and once I started to strive for field hockey, they were harder on me and kept supporting me.”
Couch picked up the game of field hockey at a young age. Her neighbor taught local kids the rules and tricks of the sport. Eventually, there were endless games going across backyards.
“As a kid, it was just so much fun,” Couch said. “I would go out and try to drive the ball across my entire front yard. It was definitely an enjoyable thing and something I’ve loved and found a passion for as soon as I was introduced to the game.”
Couch had no shortage of mentors growing up. Her sister and neighbor played with her. But there was also Audra Heilman, a girl who took the same path Couch would eventually take.
Both started at Easton High School and then came to IU, where Heilman starred for the Hoosiers from 2011-2014. Heilman finished her career at IU ranked third in program history for goals scored and total points. She also ranked fourth in assists and earned first team Big Ten recognition as a senior.
On top of the stats, she served as a role model to Couch.
“She really held Audra to a very high standard. She always wanted to be as good or better than Audra was,” Greg Couch said.
Field hockey has never had the extensive training available in schools that sports like basketball, baseball and others do. A lot of work is done in club and high school workouts, but Couch found the best work was done with her father when they would spend upwards of five days a week at Lafayette College, a school only four miles from Couch's basement.
“I really found my getaway with my dad,” Couch said. “I remember one time I had glasses and we were on the field and it started pouring rain. It was literally pouring rain and I couldn’t see out of my glasses and he told me I was going to have to play in this, so let’s go."
Couch grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania, a town of about 26,000 located roughly 55 miles north of Philadelphia. She attended Easton High School, a school buried in the middle of a field hockey talent hotbed.
The USA National Team has its headquarters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and some of the nation’s top talent plays in Pennsylvania. The top club programs play their field hockey in Pennsylvania. The tradition of high school programs and expertise of the coaches leads to a ton of high-level recruits from the Keystone State.
Couch was successful at Easton, starting as a freshman and putting up more than 40 points each season during her prep career. She was a team player even as arguably their best offensive player, and that’s all that mattered to her father.
From afar, her father never really paid much attention to the stats.
“It’s interesting because when you see it, you’re not realizing what’s happening,” Greg said. “She would always look at what’s the best for the team rather than her personally looking to break records.”
And break records she did. As a freshman, she tallied 16 goals and eight assists. Her sophomore year, she added another 15 goals. Her final two years, 67 goals. Couch finished her prep career with 98 goals, 57 assists, an unprecedented 253 points and an appearance in the state playoffs – Easton’s first in 27 years, against national powerhouse Emmaus High School.
Smashing the school’s 49-year goal record and all-time assist mark eventually earned her a spot in the Easton High School Hall of Fame and then a shot with the U.S. Indoor Under-19 National Team.
Couch played for four years in the USA Field Hockey pipeline, competing in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as well as internationally in Canada and the Netherlands.
She had success in both high school and at the club level with X-Calibur, one of the most dominant club programs in the country, where she won four national club titles.
After watching Couch at the high school and club levels, the director of the U.S. National Indoor Program, Jun Kentwell, gave Couch a call. Even after the first tryout, one that Couch calls the worst of her career, she would eventually get her shot. Couch was a part of the U-19 Squad that traveled to the Netherlands, falling short of a title to the host nation.
“It was truly amazing, and I’m so thankful for the experience,” Couch said. “Being exposed to college-level girls was truly phenomenal. They just push you to be better and taught you how to not just do things, but mentally take things.”
All these experiences from high school fueled Couch's drive to perform at the highest level.
Playing with one of the most elite club teams in the U.S., starting varsity four seasons and playing on the Indoor National Team opened a variety of new doors for Couch at a young age. IU Coach Amanda Janney Misselhorn was first introduced to Couch when she was an 8th grader. Janney Misselhorn saw great potential in the girl from Easton.
“She’s been a great recruit for us, and I saw her potential as a young player,” Janney Misselhorn said. “I’ve seen her just develop as that killer forward. I watched her play a few times in indoor in which she was just unstoppable."
Ever since Couch stepped foot in Bloomington, she’s had great success. She started by dropping a goal in her first scrimmage against St. Louis. Her first regular season match against Louisville saw her dish an assist to senior Claire Woods. Couch said it's a testament to the hard work that the team put in during the summer and the mindset that the freshmen have come to campus with.
“All the freshmen came in, and we knew we wanted to hold our own and work hard,” Couch said.
She has started every game this season on the front line. Her attacking style of play allows her to get deep beyond the lines of the defense and opens up many ways for her and her teammates to score, which makes her crucial to the IU attack.
“She’s a killer forward that’s aggressive and has that competitiveness,” Janney Misselhorn said. “She also has a variety of shooting ability that allows her to be really dangerous in different ways.
With all the achievements, past and present, Couch still has the moments in her basement, the talks with her dad and competing with her siblings fresh in her memory.
Her dad always taught her to seize the moment, which is what she continues to do.
But now at a higher level than ever before.
“It is crazy," Couch said. "I remember being there and him telling me that this is the national championship, you’re going for the goal. We prepped for high school games, what’s going to happen and what colleges are looking for. You put it all together and now it’s here.”
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