Hopewell field hockey player Bella DiNardo led the Bulldogs with six goals and four assists in the squad’s first six games. (Photo by Mike Schwartz.)

Two years ago, Bella DiNardo’s dad, Russell, noticed how serious his daughter was getting about field hockey and decided to purchase a video camera. At each Hopewell Valley Central High School game, Russell can be seen filming DiNardo in a quest to make her better and plan for her future.

It is working out quite well, as the junior forward led the Bulldogs in scoring with six goals and four assists through the season’s first six games and had a career total of 18 and 11 through that time.

“There are two purposes for the film,” DiNardo said. “One—after every game my father downloads the film and I can review my play and have a better understanding of what happened in certain moments and what I need to do in order to improve in those situations. Two—I intend to play in college and it is very helpful to have a highlight video for coaches to see a short video on your style of play.”

DiNardo not only studies the tape for her benefit, but for her teammates as well.

“While watching the film I also have the opportunity to watch my teammates and their style of play,” she said. “I learn what I need to change in order to benefit my teammates and bring out their strengths come game time.”

But she is especially tough on herself, actually freezing the action when she makes a poor decision.

“Therefore, I can evaluate and see exactly where I went wrong so I can improve,” DiNardo said. “The film has immensely helped me with growing in the game and being able to transfer what I see on film into the thought process that I need to have during the game.”

If that kind of dedication doesn’t convince a person of DiNardo’s passion for field hockey, then they are just not paying attention. The sport flows through her blood like red and white corpuscles.

“My love for the game has always been very prominent,” she said. “I love having a challenge and the game provides constant room for improvement and growth.”

The only thing she takes more serious is her academics, as witnessed by a GPA that would be the equivalent of a 4.0 in the HVCHS grading system. She also uses her smarts to better herself on the field.

“She’s got some great skill but what she really does is so many things outside of the season to prepare herself and make herself a better player,” Bulldogs coach Pam Edwards said. “She’s really elevated her game from freshman year to now. She’s a totally different player. We saw a lot of potential and she really worked in the off-season to prepare herself.

“She goes home and studies the game. She looks at things she does well and things she needs to work on. She really is a pleasure to coach we’re just happy to have her.”

DiNardo was persuaded to try the sport in fourth grade by some friends. She would faithfully attend clinics each Sunday which improved her game, “and I just fell in love with it.” Up to that point she had tried soccer, cross country and basketball, but field hockey had her at hello.

Her first actual game came in seventh grade and, like most newbies, the whirlwind of whistles had her somewhat baffled.

“Oh my goodness, it was crazy,” DiNardo said. “You don’t really understand the game, it was just a learning experience. But I loved the competitiveness. And from there, being able to grow every single game is what I love to do.”

And grow she has. DiNardo joined the renowned Princeton club program in seventh grade and began to compete against quality competition. Her ability to see the field and a knack for knowing when to shoot or when to pass made her a natural forward.

DiNardo had a modest freshman season with just one goal, but she was playing behind such outstanding scorers and leaders as Kileigh Pfluger, Kelsey Fithen and Gabby Gomez. DiNardo watched and learned and as a junior, she tallied 11 goals and seven assists.

“All three of those girls played a huge role in the development of the player I am today, especially Kileigh Pfluger,” DiNardo said. “She taught me what being a leader meant and how to bring the team up in difficult times. All three showed me what it meant to have unity as a team and play for one another. I would not be the same player I am today if I did not have the experience of playing with all three talented players for two years.”

With the trio graduating last year, DiNardo has been elevated to team captain and is also the main scoring threat. It’s a role she embraces.

“I’m very excited,” she said. “It’s a whole new experience. There’s lots of room for improvement, growing with (a young) team. Last year I had teammates setting up plays for me whereas this year I have to set up the plays for my teammates. My teammates are doing that for me as well. It’s pretty much working together and seeing the opening.”

Edwards feels that DiNardo’s burning desire to get better makes her the right girl to lead the way.

“Bella has a great knowledge of the game,” the coach said. “She shares that with her teammates and really tries to talk her teammates through things and help them out. Her own overall game is definitely improved. She knows what to do with the ball much better than she did before. Her speed is better, she’s much stronger than she was and she still has so much potential.”

DiNardo’s speed, ability to see gaps on the field and read the play are what makes her dangerous but she never stops trying to learn. She attends a college clinic every weekend, even in-season. Over the summer she practiced stick skills and shots, “and having the confidence and correct decision making for when to use them.” She credited her trainers and coaches constant work as allowing her to make such a big leap in her development.

“Field hockey would not be the same without my teammates and coaches,” she said. “They are the reasons I continue to come back for more.”

She will keep coming back after high school, as DiNardo has already been contacted by several colleges about playing the sport she loves. Her goal is to major in physical therapy.

“Through field hockey and being an athlete I have been able to be surrounded by many in the performance enhancement and injury care and management industries,” she said. “I find great interest in both of those and am very interested and attracted to physical therapy and what it involves.”

And if she continues her current practice, it sounds like someone will be having their knee rehab being filmed a few years from now.