Some would say that Ashley Hoffman has a lot of pressure on her shoulders as a junior defender on UNC’s field hockey team.
For one, she’s a captain of one of the top programs in collegiate history. The Tar Heels have won 19 ACC championships and six NCAA titles since 1983. In her three years with UNC, Hoffman has helped lead her team to two NCAA championship finals only to lose the coveted crown at the final buzzer. This season, Hoffman and the Tar Heels are hungry for another chance at the trophy.
But there is also another pressure point that is a little closer to home: Hoffman’s mother Brenda was a field hockey Olympian who won bronze at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. From a young age, Ashley has been playing to live up to her mother’s legacy if not exceed it. She claims that kind of stress is not something that debilitates her.
“The pressure has always been there,” Ashley told Excelle Sports.“Especially in high school, like before I made any of the national teams. But I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative thing. I think it’s pushed me.”
That pressure has propelled the Mohnton, Pa. native to earn multiple All-South region honors and a nomination to the All-ACC tournament team. As a defender, she’s scored an impressive total of 20 goals for UNC. Since 2013, Ashley‘s been a member of the U.S. U-17, U-19 and U-21 national teams, and last summer earned a spot as the youngest member on the U.S. women’s national team.
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It’s safe to say that she’s following smoothly in her mother’s footsteps, but it hasn’t always been that way. Brenda had been Ashley’s coach from second grade all the way through high school. Sometimes after games and practices, car rides home would get a bit intense.
“[In high school], we would always have one blow up fight per season and get past it. But it would actually help us grow our relationship,” said Ashley. “We definitely didn’t always see eye-to-eye and she always pushed me harder than any other athletes on the team. Sometimes that felt like that wasn’t fair, but in the long-run I think she was just trying to help me.”
“I’m an intense person and coach. She’s an intense player,” added Brenda. “With her, there’s that line of dealing with me as a coach, a mom and then dealing with the relationship with her teammates. [At some point,] we learned to go home and put our minds on the family and other things that were not hockey related.”
Part of the reason Ashley has been so successful, according to Brenda, is that she wasn’t forced to play field hockey growing up; Ashley developed a passion for the sport on her own. In elementary school, Ashley would keep asking her older brother Ryan to play one on one with her in the backyard. She’d also look to her mother for advice.
“She would always remind me that I can’t be complacent where I’m at right now,” said Ashley. “There are other people out there working harder to get better than me.”
Despite Ashley’s fervor, Brenda made sure that her daughter explored other sports such as basketball and softball. In high school, Ashley was a star three-sport athlete.
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“She was a natural athlete and was good at every sport she played,” said Brenda. “And I didn’t want to force her into field hockey. Just her having the pressure of mom being an Olympian is tough. But I think she handled it very well and she fell in love with the game. I actually think she is a much better player than I was.”
Not to mention Brenda was a forward back in her competitive days which means that Ashley has developed into a different player entirely.
Indeed, the Hoffman legacy has proved to be more of a support system for Ashley over the years. Her mother’s experience with the Olympics helped her navigate things like training for national teams and figuring out the college recruiting process. At UNC, Ashley is now being coached by her mother’s good friend and ex-teammate Karen Shelton. Both Brenda Hoffman and Shelton won the Olympic bronze medal together back in 1984.
“I was very pleased when Ashley chose UNC,” said Brenda. “I respect Karen a lot. Karen is a great role model and has a lot of experience. Ashley could not go wrong.”
Over the past 30-odd years, Shelton has coached many daughters of former Team USA players. She laughs at the thought of it and says it’s just a sign of her getting really old. But Shelton thinks that Ashley in particular has developed into an exceptional player not only with the Tar Heels, but under her mother’s tutelage as well.
“She’s just continuing to improve,” said Coach Shelton. “She’s quick, smart, unselfish, disciplined. She can play multiple positions. She’s really got it all. Ashley is a coach’s child of a player who was an Olympian and knows the game inside and out. I think that would be a huge advantage to any student-athlete. Those good habits are instilled at such an early age. I think Brenda and Scott [Hoffman, Ashley’s father] can be proud in how Ashley carries herself and the habits she carries onto the field.”
So far this season, Coach Shelton has led the Tar Heels to a 4-2 record, recently defeating Appalachian State 6-1 on Sunday. UNC remains focused on the NCAA trophy that has slipped through their grasp over the past two years. But Ashley is not going to sweat about it just yet.
“We are not looking ahead at the next championships or the tournaments,” said Ashley. “We are just focusing on maintaining a consistency throughout the whole season. The most important game is the next game.”