Alyssa Clayton is truly unique.
Unlike most high school varsity athletes, Clayton never played an organized sport before suiting up for the Hamilton West field hockey team in ninth grade.
And while many Hamilton Township players admit they never played the sport before trying it in high school, Clayton takes it a step further.
“I didn’t even know it existed, to be completely honest,” the senior said. “My freshman year I went to the orientation for sports. I walked in, saw the poster on the table for it and was like, ‘What is this?’ I knew about lacrosse, I knew about track. But field hockey came out of left field.”
Actually, left field would be softball. But come now, there had to be even the remotest knowledge of field hockey. Hadn’t there?
“My extent of knowing,” she said, “was absolutely nothing.
“So I looked at it, and said ‘Ah, this is a sport? I kind of like it. It’s interesting. That’s something I want to do. Sign me up.”
Clayton also got a nudge from former head coach Judy Goldstein, who was entering her final year before turning the reins over to Kerryn Campbell.
“The old coach was really persistent in getting players,” Clayton said. “She re-enforced it was a family bonding experience and how close all the girls were. I knew I wanted that friendship and wanted to bond with team members, so of course I went with field hockey.”
It turned out to be a pretty good move for all involved. After playing on the JV for Campbell as a freshman, Clayton followed her coach to varsity the following year. Unlike girls who had played sports before trying field hockey, the constant whistles just seemed routine.
“There was nothing else to compare it to,” she said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, so this is how it works.’ I picked up the skills pretty fast. Because I was so eager to learn and so excited to be immersed in a sport I just immediately fell in love with playing it.”
Campbell recalls being impressed with Clayton when she first started on JV, particularly her speed and tenaciousness.
“I knew she was gonna be on varsity the next year,” the coach said. “I knew I could just fine tune the little things that she wasn’t quite doing right. All I had to do was show her something once and it was fixed right away. She’s very coachable.”
After her debut season, Clayton felt confident in her abilities and realized she had a future in the sport. As a sophomore, she won a starting job and although she only had one assist, Campbell saw her fierce hunger to try and score. She broke through last year with a goal and three assists and, although they weren’t blistering scoring totals, her hunger grew even more after experiencing scoring a goal.
“Now that she has that feeling of scoring, she knows how to execute it,” Campbell said. “She’s very powerful and she knows where her opportunities are to shoot.”
After being held scoreless in an opening-day loss to Princeton this season, Clayton had a point in each of the next four games before the Hornets’ season abruptly ended due to a COVID-19 shutdown. The forward had two goals and three assists in the five games, scoring goals against Hopewell Valley and Steinert and picking up two assists in a win over Nottingham.
Campbell feels Clayton’s quick stick and solid lift on the ball made her a more dangerous threat.
“This is what I expected from her,” the coach said. “She’s also on our defensive corners. She’s our flier, she’s the first one out on the ball because of her speed and agility. She stops it a lot of the time because of how quick and fearless she is.”
Clayton felt the chemistry she developed with her teammates, both on and off the field, over the years helped her fine tune her ability.
“That’s beneficial on the field,” she said. “You’ve got that camaraderie that you need to play well.”
Clayton also gives herself a deserved pat on the back.
“I think I’ve 100% improved this year and scoring is one of the skill sets I improved,” Clayton said. “And (Campbell) is right about my scoring. As a player I sometimes doubt myself, and I have to remind myself I’m meant to be there, I’m a good player. The moment I scored I realized I’m capable of scoring. That became my main goal: get the ball in the net.”
Despite her love of the sport, Clayton never took it so serious where she went to camps or clinics in the off-season. She just found it a fun thing to do during her autumns in high school.
And it’s not like she needs a sport to keep busy or have a successful future.
Clayton happens to be the West valedictorian with a weighted grade point average of 4.904. When she’s not getting A’s, she’s taking part in one project or another as a member of the West Math Club, News Club, Key Club, Unified, National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society and Math Honor Society. She even volunteers for things she’s not a part of.
“I volunteered to help the Spanish Club, but I’m not in it,” she said. “I need to find things to do with myself.”
Clayton has applied to every Ivy League school and is hoping to be accepted into Princeton or Yale. She plans on majoring in biochemistry or biology and hopes to get her doctorate and work in some field of pediatrics.
While her future looks bright, Clayton will always look back on her field hockey experience as something special.
“It’s been an amazing four years, I wouldn’t take it back for anything,” she said. “I think I gained so much from it. It’s so much fun. It’s a good sport. We should get it out there more. I’m sure a lot of the girls don’t know what it is.”
That, of course, never stopped Clayton from being part of it and enjoying that bonding experience she sought.
“I love my teammates,” she said. “I’ve been able to maintain so many friendships and get new friends from field hockey. I couldn’t imagine my high school career without it.”
All she had to do was discover it.