U.S. National Team experience helped player of the year
Maci Bradford has photographs of herself as a 4-year-old with a field hockey stick in her hands. The two formed an early connection.
By the time she was 6, she was already playing with older girls on Shore Byrds club teams operated by her mother Juli Byrd Bradford and aunt Jodi Byrd Holloman, a pair of former University of Delaware field hockey standouts.
One of those other girls was sister Morgan, two years older and now a Delmar senior set to begin her college hockey career with early entry to Delaware in February.
“If one of us went outside, both of us went outside, competing with each other to make each other better,” Maci said. “It was always so fun to be out there with her. That’s where I am today, too, from her helping me.”
Where Maci Bradford now resides is in the No. 1 spot among Delaware high school field hockey players, having been voted the state’s Division II Player of the Year by coaches. It’s stiff competition, considering her fellow Delmar sophomore and first cousin Josie Holloman earned that honor in 2019.
“Josie is more of a defender and Maci had an outstanding attacking year,” said Delmar coach Jodi Holloman, Josie’s mother. “I don’t know if one is better than the other because they’re two totally different type players. The two of them really complement each other.
“Maci was just outstanding attack-wise. She is just straight-up deadly in the circle. Her 3D skills, which are skills that not many high school kids can utilize consistently, are the best. Her hands are out of this world.”
3D skills in field hockey involve being able to lift and scoop the ball over and around an opponent and her stick.
Bradford finished with 30 goals, a career high, and nine assists despite the 15-0, Division II state champion Wildcats playing fewer games than other years because of COVID-19 shortening the 2020 season.
She has 70 goals and 33 assists in her three varsity seasons.
“When we’re thinking about a scouting report for Delmar, the first two people who come up are Maci and Josie,” said coach Kate Austin of Division I state champion Cape Henlopen. “Maci’s skill, she’s phenomenal. She can put a shot anywhere in the air. She always knows where it’s gonna go. Her 3D skills are incredible. She’s super deceptive and she can take the ball wherever she wants, whenever she wants. She’s hard to defend.”
Those skills were honed in the fall of 2019 and winter of 2020 while Maci was in camp with the United States under-16 team. She and Josie both made the final cuts for the team that defeated Canada in three games at the Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista, California, in February.
“It was just unreal,” Maci said of training and competing in such an environment.
A spring trip to England, however, and other U.S. team activity for the rest of 2020 were thwarted by COVID-19.
“The national team definitely helped me coming into the Delmar season from the competition of playing against better players than myself,” Maci said. “I knew I had to step up as a leader because I knew we were losing some players, too.”
Delmar’s state championship was its fifth in a row and the Wildcats extended their winning streak to 77 games.
“They’re learning so much because there are so many different styles of players,” Jodi Holloman said of the national team experience, “and they’re exposed to multiple, high-caliber coaches.
"Their coach, Katie O’Donnell Bam, is a former Olympian who was noted as the best field hockey player in the world at one time. Even throughout COVID they stayed in touch doing a lot of film stuff. They’re hoping to get back into the swing of things here soon.”
All those years of playing field hockey and watching others also taught Maci the value of diligence. She has been willing to put in the time to continuie to hone her own considerable skills.
“It’s not an easy sport,” she said. “You have to work hard to figure out skills and everything. You always have to try hard.”
That’s especially true at her position, as an attacking midfielder who both provokes and finishes the attack but also is the first line of defense.
“It’s a really challenging position because you’re playing offense but you’re playing defense and you’re also distributing the ball to your players,” she said. “You have to have a lot of game sense to play in the middle and direct your teammates and let them know where they should be going.”
Having already gone places and reached levels most field hockey players can only imagine, Maci Bradford aims to continue her growth and development. This summer she’ll begin seriously weighing the college scholarship offers that will besiege her.
She calls field hockey “a family tradition,” and continuing at the collegiate level will continue that legacy.
“I just want to keep moving forward,” she said.
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