Meet the van Ommerens

By Dylan Manfre

The last time field hockey Head Coach Lori Hussong had siblings on her roster was 2004: the year the Boston Red Sox won its first World Series since 1918, former United States President Ronald Regan passed away at age 93 and President George W. Bush was re-elected for a second term.

Hussong’s next set are a pair of Dutch sisters who live and breathe field hockey. 

Meet Tess van Ommeren and Kiki van Ommeren.

For the first time in her life, Tess van Ommeren has the privilege of calling her sister a teammate at Rider.

Their journey to Lawrenceville, New Jersey, began on the other side of the world — 3,690 miles to be exact — in Amsterdam, Netherlands. They picked up field hockey six years prior to the average age children would start playing in America at age 12.

They both played for the First Ladies AthenA club team, the highest level in the Netherlands. Kiki van Ommeren played on the youth team for a year prior to coming to America. Tess van Ommeren played one year for the older group team, which has some of the country’s top talent.

People in the Netherlands can play the sport anywhere from age six to upwards of 60, according to the sisters’ mother, Gabrielle Luhrman. She even played until she suffered a knee injury at age 40, caused from field hockey.

“It always brings back memories [of when I played], watching Tess and Kiki,” Luhrman said in an email. “We share the love for this sport with our family and friends. The first years of their lives Tess and Kiki were coming with me to all of my games just like all the other kids of my teammates.”

Above all, Luhrman is elated to see her daughters succeed. She is even planning a trip to America with her sister this month to visit her daughters and the team.

“It really makes me happy, grateful and proud,” Luhrman said. “They are so lucky to have this opportunity to grow as a player as well as a person. I hope this adventure will bond them even more for the rest of their lives.”

The sisters always spent time practicing in their backyard or with their friends at a local park from the first time they picked up a stick. The sport runs in the blood of the van Ommeren family as they are synonymous with the highest level of field hockey.

Luhrman, who is a board member of the AthenA field hockey club, said when the girls were 12 years old they worked as field hockey trainers.

“I started playing around six years old and [Kiki] just came with me because she was my sister and playing with my team,” Tess van Ommeren said. “When you start earlier, with anything, it’s going to be easier for you.”

Coming to America was difficult for Tess van Ommeren. She was the first in her family to travel to the United States. While she had a basic understanding of the language, she said it was still a challenge to get acquainted.

“It was super hard in the beginning,” she said. “I had a really hard time… it’s hard to communicate with people and with preseason, you practice everyday and we don’t do that at home. That was all new. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come here.”

Adjusting without her sister in the house was hard for Kiki van Ommeren too. She described it as “like someone had died.”

“The first few months she was away, me and my mom were so sad.” Kiki van Ommeren said. “It was super weird. Our mom works sometimes really late and sometimes Tess would come home,  but now it’s just me and my mom.”

When it came time for Kiki van Ommeren to look at options for colleges, she had her older sister give her the rundown on college life in America.

“She told me stories about how she made friends,” Kiki van Ommeren said. “I didn’t have that information about other schools so it made me feel a little bit closer.”

One intriguing story Tess van Ommeren shared with her sister was that the team took ice baths to recover after practices.

“I thought that was so cool,” Kiki van Ommeren said. “I once saw a movie where the Dutch National Team went in ice baths. It felt super professional.”

When asked about how it felt sliding into the frigid tub, she laughed and summed the experience up in four words.

“It wasn’t that special.”

It’s safe to say that playing her first game was a bit more satisfying than the shivers of an ice bath for Kiki van Ommeren.

When preseason ended and it was time for the team to put on their cranberry jerseys to face Lehigh, Kiki van Ommeren would be the only sibling to suit up. 

A quad injury sidelined Tess van Ommeren for the season opener but she was able to rid her sister of those first-game jitters and cheer her on.

“She always makes me feel super comfortable and we know each other very well,” Kiki van Ommeren said. “She knows what to say to make me feel good.”

Immediately when Kiki took the field, Hussong was beyond impressed at how dynamic of a player she was. She came to Rider as advertised.

“I think she is an amazing kid to have on the team. Nobody outworks Kiki on the field in everything that she does. She does everything with a smile on her face. She’s really appreciative and happy for this opportunity, not only to play for Rider, but to play with her older sister,” Hussong said. “Kiki is getting better each time out. We’ve had her playing several positions on the field already trying to get a feel of which will help us the most. She’s an athlete and she can run all day.”

The anticipated first game the sisters would take the field together was against La Salle when the Broncs pulled out a 2-1 double overtime victory for their first win of the year.

Kiki van Ommeren was responsible for the opening goal.

“The second I scored, I was like ‘Huh’,” she laughed. “And then I realized I scored and I was so happy. I’ve never been so happy with scoring a goal. Winning seasons also feel really good but this is a totally different thing. It felt so good.”

Tess van Ommeren said she was more proud of her sister scoring than if she were to score herself.

Now the sisters have played in seven games together and never once did it feel odd. In fact, the opposite is true.

“I expected it to feel weird or something but it doesn’t feel different at all,” Tess said. “It feels like she should be here.”

Aside from being very supportive of each other, the van Ommerens show a sense of genuine humility. There is no sibling rivalry.

When asked who they thought the better player was: 

“I think Tess is,” Kiki van Ommeren said.

“And I think Kiki is,” Tess van Ommeren said pointing to her sister. “I didn’t know she was this good before she came here. She was a little insecure the first few games. Now she’s all over the place and playing so good.”

Their teammates feel the same way.

“They’re selfless,” sophomore midfielder Carly Brosious said. “They’re very supportive of each other. [Kiki] is our goofball. She always has everybody laughing no matter what.”

Senior midfielder Tess Coorens might have said it best: “They look up to each other.”

Follow Dylan Manfre on Twitter for the latest on Rider field hockey.

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