It is certainly a great challenge for a field hockey player to succeed at the collegiate level. Likewise, it’s an even greater challenge to see a field hockey player excel at an international level. However, junior midfielder for the Red Hawks field hockey team, Yael Yonah, has done both at a level that is astonishing to say the least.
Yonah’s international success speaks for itself. In 2017, Yonah was the youngest member chosen to be apart of the Team USA open field hockey team for Maccabiah Games, a multi-sport event held in Israel. The team, compiled of Jewish-American field hockey players, came away with the silver medal at the event.
After a great performance at the Maccabiah Games, she was again chosen to represent Team USA at the European Maccabiah Games this past summer in Budapest, Hungary. As a captain, she led her team to the bronze medal.
As for her collegiate career, she has scored three goals already this season and has been one of the most versatile and skilled players on this talented Red Hawks field hockey team, who currently have an 8-3 record and are ranked #16 in Division III national field hockey rankings.
Despite all of her success on the international and collegiate level, Yonah’s only played field hockey since she was a freshman at West Windsor-Plainsboro South High School.
Growing up in Princeton, New Jersey, Yonah excelled in three sports: field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. Although she loved playing all three sports in high school, Yonah’s focus was always on field hockey.
“During basketball and lacrosse season, I would always have club field hockey on the weekends,” Yonah said. “I would have to play my in-season sport five days a week and then on the weekends I would have to go and compete for my club team.”
Her commitment to field hockey paid off in a huge way, as Yonah would pick up several different awards throughout her junior and senior year at West Windsor-Plainsboro South. She earned an honorable mention selection in her conference as a junior, and was again an all-conference selection as a senior, earning her a spot in the Mercer County Senior All-Star Game.
During this time, Yonah was beginning to get more and more Division I looks, as her performances at the club field hockey level had caught the eye of many coaches and recruiters. She had originally had committed to Monmouth University, a Division I school, during her junior year after receiving a scholarship offer from the school. However, a change of heart led her to commit to Montclair State instead, which wasn’t at the level that she had previously hoped to be competing at.
“I wasn’t initially looking at Division III schools, but when I went to visit Montclair State, I liked the team atmosphere a lot better than I did at Monmouth,” Yonah said. “Although it was a tough decision to make, as soon as I met the girls on the team and coach [Ellien O’Reilly], I knew that I would love it here.”
Despite being one of the best field hockey players to come out of West Windsor-Plainsboro South, Yonah knew that she had to work her tail off to become a top-level player for the Red Hawks field hockey team.
“I didn’t play that much in my freshman and sophomore year and it forced me to work twice as hard to earn a starting role here,” Yonah said. “At this program nothing is given to you, you have to earn it.”
When Yonah was invited to go down to Macciabah European Games to play for Team USA this past summer, it provided her a great opportunity to expand on her skills.
“I had to play defense when I was down there, and that was the number one thing I needed to improve on coming into this season,” Yonah said. “It made me more hungry once I went back to playing forward at Montclair State because of the different movements and positioning that I’ve learned.”
Yonah’s improvement on the defensive side of the ball has made her an extremely well-rounded player at the forward/midfield position. The Red Hawks have allowed the third-fewest goals in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) this season, and much of that has to do with Yonah’s play.
Junior forward/midfielder Elizabeth Cimillucia has seen first hand how well Yonah has adjusted to her new role.
“I think the position change (from defense to forward) gave her more confidence [on the field], which lead to her performing better,” Cimillucia said.
She also commented on Yonah’s leadership skills.
“As a leader, she gives good feedback on and off the field and gives her best effort when playing,” Cimillucia said.
As for the team, they have seen plenty of national tournament appearances and success on the national level for the last 4-5 years. However, the one prize that has seemingly eluded this team is the NJAC championship, as they haven’t won the wooden and gold trophy since 2012.
“We haven’t won the [NJAC] in a couple of years now, and it’s something that is always on our minds coming into the preseason,” Yonah said. “Every time we’ve fallen short of the title, we’ve continued to work harder and harder and hopefully that gives us the momentum to go and win it this year.”
It is clear that Yonah has made the most of her field hockey career to this point, from traveling the world to becoming a key player on this 8-3 Montclair State field hockey team. She credits her high school coach, Christine Carbale, for growing her love of the game and influencing her to play at the next level.
“She taught me how to play field hockey as a freshman and sophomore, and really set up my love for the game early on,” Yonah said. “I think the reason why I’m such a hardworking player at the collegiate level is that she always taught me how to play for yourself and your team, and I have these core values when I play in college.”