How a life in the game of field hockey has shaped defender Bethany Dykema

In the backyard of the Dykema home in Newport News, Virginia, lies a field. It may be empty at the moment, but the pitch was once a place of passion and growth for Liberty field hockey graduate defender Bethany Dykema and her siblings. 

The pitch, built by Dykema’s father, simply began as an outlet for his four children — Ashley, Bethany, Emily and Corey — to practice the sport they love. But years later, it’s a representation of how far the siblings have gone in the game and how field hockey has brought the family together. 

While Newport News may be Bethany Dykema’s current home, many places have been “home” for her over the years. Growing up in a military family, she lived everywhere from Connecticut, to Michigan and even Florida. 

Due to the constant moves, Dykema’s mother decided it was best to homeschool her children. She, however, still desired for them to experience activity and involvement with other kids. That’s when the family found the game of field hockey.

What started as an activity for exercise and community transformed into much more than they ever pictured. The siblings rapidly realized that their ability in the game exceeded those around them.

“We joined another club after that was a little bit more high-level,” Bethany Dykema said. “We went to more tournaments and things like that. We started to figure out that we were all pretty good when we were being pulled up to the older age groups to play in the older divisions as younger kids.” 

After years of training and traveling to prestigious tournaments, the eldest sibling Ashley became the first of the bunch to take her game to the collegiate level, becoming a Liberty Flame in 2017. 

When the time eventually came for Bethany to make the leap to collegiate field hockey, however, she felt the need to go her own way. Playing in the same program as her sister did not necessarily seem to be a lucrative offer for the incoming freshman. 

That is, until one day when her sister decided to write Bethany a letter from her new school. 

“(Ashley) just wrote me this letter, and I sat down and read it,” Dykema said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is real … I could go play with my sister one day.’ And not many people get to do that at the college level.”

Bethany found that her desire to do her own thing dissipated. At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to be a part of the program with her sister. 

As she glanced back at that decision, she said it was one of the most vital she has ever made. Finding her footing at a large school like Liberty, however, was initially difficult.

“I did youth group and things like that growing up, but I wasn’t around a core group of people every single day chasing really big things,” Dykema said. “I think it was a little overwhelming at first … But I had some really cool people around me and the upperclassmen that were here before me who really paved the way for showing me how you find purpose in whatever role you have here.”

In time, Dykema certainly found her role on the pitch as a Flame. Entering her fifth year donning Liberty’s uniform, she has earned two VaSID All-State first team titles to her name, having started in all games but four since her arrival. Each year, the bar gets higher for Dykema’s performance, currently sitting in the top 10 in program history in career assists (36). 

When one watches Dykema on the pitch, it may look as if the game comes easy to her. Considering her dominance, the choice to return to Liberty for her fifth season of eligibility seemed, to most, a simple decision. For the graduate student, however, last season brought trials that left her questioning whether field hockey should remain in her future.

“My grandmother had just passed away in the middle of (last) season, and there were a lot of outside factors that made me not want to be at field hockey,” Dykema said. “And I remember I was very private about those things … I’m really good at kind of masking that type of emotion.”

Dykema entered spring practices with the question looming of whether she had the passion to lead the team through another season. But as she continued to grow among her teammates, she found the strength to surmount her struggles, with the help of her teammates.  

“We were conditioning every day and going through the rigors of spring training, but I found so much joy in the team and really found even more purpose than I had before,” Dykema said. “I’m not defined by my sport, or my academics, or any other thing that can be easily taken — I’m defined by who Christ says I am. I think I was able to really pour in the other people in the spring, and that gave me even more passion.”

Dykema soared through the spring, with an even more exciting summer in sight. After competing in the 2023 Senior Nexus Championship, she was offered the opportunity to practice with the U.S. Women’s National Team for one week in early August. The opportunity thrilled the young athlete, and she feels she is now better from it. 

“I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of things that we focus on here at Liberty like culture, being player-led, the intensity of practice, all those things were in the environment, just at a higher level,” Dykema said. “I think having exposure to other coaches and other players and different thought processes on how to problem-solve the game — that helped me a lot coming into this fall. There were things I was able to take away and bring to our environment here.”

The impression she made on the U.S. Women’s National Team was tangible as well. Dykema has stayed in contact with the USWNT staff and is hoping to further her field hockey career after her final season with the Flames. 

“Obviously, this season, I want to stay where my feet are … But not all people get to play (field hockey) post-college. So, if I’m given the opportunity, I’m (going to) take it for sure.”

Her sisters, Ashley and Emily, have both now moved on from the program. Her brother, Corey, remains a dedicated practice player, helping the team improve daily.

For the first time in a while, Bethany will play a season of field hockey without one of her siblings alongside her on the pitch. Her family, however, beams with pride as they watch her and the Flames chase the ultimate dream for one final season. 

“I think the potential is winning a national championship … I see very similar things in this team right now that I saw in that 2021 team,” Dykema said. “On paper, yes, the talent is there. But I think it’s the heartbeat that this team has … It’s just girls that will do whatever it takes to win, and that’s the type of mentality that championship teams have.”

Cory is the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

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