Caroline Falahee did something in her athletic career that was very special – and doesn’t happen very often. The Father Gabriel Richard senior picked up a field hockey stick for the first time four years ago as a freshman when the school added the sport to its athletic lineup. By the time Falahee was a senior, she was not only one of the best players on her team, but among the best in the state – her All-State honor confirming her climb up the ladder from newbie to standout.
And FGR coach Craig Flocken wasn’t surprised in the least. In fact, the veteran coach, who has coached many outstanding players during his career including many who had never played before, saw the potential early on.
“The fact that Caroline was athletically strong helped her make the transition into a new sport,” says Flocken, who has successfully started field hockey programs at Dexter and FGR. “Though she had to learn the game as she went along, she quickly adapted to the skill-set needed to be successful. In fact, it wasn’t long into that first year when she started to show signs of what a dominating force she was to become on the field.”
Falahee’s introduction to the sport started at home.
“As an incoming freshman, my mom was really pushing for me to tryout for a fall sport as a fun way to meet some friends before the academic year started,” she remembers. “My options were limited to cross country and field hockey. I knew I would never enjoy running daily after school, so I decided to pick up field hockey along with my two sisters. Each of them ended up sticking with cross country for a few years but during my junior year, my twin sister Jane, decided to come back and play field hockey again.”
It didn’t take her long to meet some friends.
“The best thing about field hockey was my amazing team,” she says. “On the first day of tryouts, none of us had ever even held a stick before. Stepping out of our comfort zones together, trying this new sport made us an extremely tight-night group. Being able to practice every day with a group of girls who were supportive and wholesome made this sport different from the rest almost instantly.”
Falahee certainly likes a challenge and she took this athletic challenge head on. Flocken said his young player didn’t know anything about the game but once she learned how much fun and challenging field hockey was, she started to focus on improving her skills to become the best player she could be.
Caroline is a very determined student-athlete and is a great person to coach,” Flocken said. “She has a strong personality yet is humble enough to know that without her teammates, she can’t be successful. She is tenacious and goes all out no matter if it is the first or last minute of a game. Her individual effort is top rate but it is her ‘team first’ mentality which helped make her the All-State player she is.
Falahee, who was recently named Division II All-State by the Michigan High School Field Hockey Association, stood out on the field for her quality of play. But she also brought a lot to the team aspect of field hockey that helped make her successful.
“The best part of Caroline making the Division II All-State Team is that she did it by being unselfish,” Flocken says. “Caroline should be proud of what she accomplished as an individual player, but more so of what she left behind as a teammate to those who will follow her here at FGR field hockey.
“She played where the team needed her, which was at a defensive midfielder position. She wasn’t an offensive focus on our team, though she could easily have taken that role with her abilities. She knew that her role was to stop or slow the opposing team’s offense – which she did consistently. She was everywhere on the field, using her speed and tenacity to create turnovers. She was a leader on a defensive unit that played well beyond its expectations and gave us a chance to win in nearly every game played.”
Falahee credits her coach for helping pave the way for her and helping build a program that is well on its way to being something special. She says Flocken shows great patience with players in the learning stages of their careers which was crucial to the growth and development to both her and the team.
“Coach always had extremely high expectations for us, even as a brand-new team, which made us feel like he truly believed we were capable of accomplishing great things even in our early years,” Falahee says. “These expectations pushed our team to make it to the Catholic League finals in both our second and third season as a team.”
While she was honored to be named All-State, she is even more proud of what she helped start at FGR. Again, she passes the credit to her coach. “I really attribute all of the success of the field hockey program to Coach Craig,” she says. “From day one he made it clear that he believed we were a strong team that could accomplish great things, and it’s that attitude that helps build a strong team. I just feel incredibly lucky to have been able to witness the drastic growth of the field hockey program throughout my four years at FGR.”
Falahee says she is going to miss playing the game, but not as much as missing her “friends.”
“We always had such an amazing time together, whether we were on the bus, running laps or just warming up,” she says. “I have been on a lot of sports teams throughout my life, but none compare to the unity and comradery of my field hockey teams at FGR.”
Caroline, the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Falahee and the FGR president of the Special Olympics Executive Board, is now off to her next challenge. She has narrowed her college choices down to U-M, Hillsdale and Hope.
“All of which are great schools academically and each would challenge me in a unique way,” she says.
And she’s not afraid of a big challenge.