Last season, Abby Roth was not enjoying field hockey as much as she used to.
She couldn’t even remember why she liked playing the sport.
The junior, who was carted along a high school field hockey field as a baby as her mother coached, said it was becoming mundane for her, referring to the 6 a.m. workouts, among other things.
As a result, Roth was not the best person to be around last season, according to her best friend and teammate, sophomore Cayleigh Immelman.
But everything changed for Roth when Immelman brought her home to Port Elizabeth, South Africa for a trip that lasted from May 14 to July 27.
“I needed South Africa to get my mind out of the monotonic every day hockey thing,” Roth said. “It was becoming more of a job than something I loved to do. Whereas, when I got to South Africa, I played just for fun.”
In South Africa, Roth coached field hockey for nine and 10-year-old girls, participated in sightseeing and settled into Immelman’s home.
Most importantly, her love of the game returned from playing on a team called the Old Grey Raptors, and it has shown on the field hockey field this season.
Roth has played a major role for Central Michigan, starting 11 games after only five starts in her first two years. Head coach Cristy Freese said she always had skills, but now she is more effective on the field.
With the extra playing time, the right back has scored the first two goals of her career, though that is not the best measurement of her play, just as touchdowns are not for a linebacker in football.
A linebacker would not be a bad comparison based on how Roth explains what she does on the field, being aggressive and diving on defense. After her practice on Oct. 9, Roth had her arms and wrist wrapped up.
The idea of going to South Africa, which eventually led to a rejuvenated Roth, hatched October 2011.
Roth and Immelman were getting along so well that Immelman asked Roth to come with her to her home country to play field hockey.
“When Cayleigh came here last year, we immediately became best friends,” Roth said. “I helped her through the transition process coming to a new country and trying to live on her own.”
Immelman said Roth enjoys taking people under her wing and guiding them in the right direction, and that was exactly what Immelman needed going to an unfamiliar place in Mount Pleasant.
Some would think the trip to South Africa was a chance for Immelman to repay the favor by showing Roth the ropes, but it was not.
Roth was comfortable there from the start, leaving Immelman’s side and visiting a home of a new friend she just met within two weeks of living in South Africa.
“Abby doesn’t feel uncomfortable,” Immelman said laughing. “I tried (showing her the ropes), but she just bolted and went on her own.”
Immelman said she has never met anyone like Roth, in terms of how she dives into a new environment, saying she is the most spontaneous person she has ever met.
While Roth was at Immelman’s home, she said the Immelmans were hospitable. They became her second family.
Immelman’s father, who Roth calls “Uncle Rob,” coached her team, the Old Grey Raptors.
“He’s an amazing man,” Roth said. “He can make you want to go out there and just give it everything you have.”
She learned new skills such as increasing her field vision and not trying to do too much.
Cayleigh said she noticed Roth was having a good time because her attitude improved.
“She wanted to go to practice; she wanted to play the game,” Immelman said. “She was excited for the game.”
There were rituals to integrate Roth into the team. One involved spinning with her head on top of her stick and the bottom of the stick on the ground.
“It was their way of letting me know I could be goofy around them; I could be silly,” Roth said. “They’re not going to judge me. We’re a team.”
Both Roth and Immelman said the environment in the CMU field hockey program can be competitive as the team works towards winning a Mid-American Conference Championship.
Going to South Africa was a relief, because it was less about reaching certain goals and more about enjoying the game.
“When I was able to be in a new place, a fresh start, a different type of hockey, it just allowed me to remember why I put so much time and effort into this game and why I loved playing,” Roth said.
She said she loved playing, because she has so much history with the sport. Her first hockey stick was 12-inches long. She was an all-state player at Warrensburg High School in New York.
Now, “forever” is how long Roth hopes to continue to play.
“Sports have always been a part of my life,” she said. “I’ve always been very hard on myself. I just learned it’s going to take time to get better and better, and I’m going to have hiccups along the way.”