The city of Hamilton, New Zealand is nestled in the Waikato region of the country’s upper North Island. It is also the hometown of women’s soccer midfielder, co-captain and leading scorer Holly Patterson ’17. As Holly and I sat down to chat about her journey to Hanover and her Dartmouth experience, she had to have known that the question was coming: how did she possibly get from Hamilton to Hanover?
Perhaps the connection was not as random as one might assume. After all, Patterson was introduced to Dartmouth by a mutual friend.
“I always wanted to come to America to pursue the student-athlete experience because there is not much opportunity to do so in New Zealand,” said Patterson, with a slight laugh. “One of my brother’s good friends, Duncan Hall [’13], rowed at Dartmouth, so I reached out to him because I had read such good things about the College and thought it would be an incredible opportunity. Everything just started from there.”
Despite having some familiarity with Dartmouth, Patterson’s journey to Hanover was unique in its own right. While most student-athletes jump straight from high school to the college ranks, Patterson chose to pursue her goal of playing for the New Zealand national team after graduating from high school in November 2011. Having already contributed to both New Zealand’s U-17 and U-20 squads, Patterson decided to put school on hold and took a year-and-a-half to chase her ultimate dream.
It was during her “gap year” that Patterson committed to Dartmouth, despite not having taken an official visit prior (though she did visit Hanover for the first time after committing). Furthermore, then-Dartmouth head coach Theresa Romagnolo had not seen Patterson play in person, making for a unique situation in an era where potential college athletes visit on-campus showcases and take numerous visits. Patterson’s video highlights and international experience, which included a stint as a reserve player for the New Zealand squad at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, were simply enough to convince Romagnolo that the future Dartmouth co-captain was a coveted athlete.
And so the New Zealander arrived in Hanover half a world away from home. Little did she know that it would not take long for Dartmouth to become a term synonymous with home itself. Being a fall-term athlete was a significant help to adjusting.
“It was actually nice playing a fall sport,” Patterson said. “Because practice started in the summer, I was able to get to know my teammates before starting school, which helped the transition a lot. In terms of the culture, everything back home is pretty similar to here so it was not a significant adjustment.”
Patterson hit the ground running in Hanover, starting nine out of the team’s 16 games at midfield and contributing a goal and an assist in her initial campaign. More significantly, she was presented with the Larry Garrity Award, given to the team’s most outstanding first-year player. Having emerged as a starter in just her first college season, as well as being named to New Zealand’s 2014 U-20 World Cup squad, for which she traveled to Brazil during finals period, Patterson seemed destined for a successful sophomore campaign. An ACL tear suffered during summer training, however, would put both her Dartmouth and international careers on hold for an entire season.
“It was tough not being able to play during my second year after being part of an awesome team my first year,” Patterson said. “It was a big road bump in my career, but it was also great to see the team dynamics from a different point of view. It was almost more fun because I did not have the stress of actually having to perform on the field, but I got to be a part of the team.”
This seemingly inauspicious time is also what Patterson credits for allowing her to grasp what makes Dartmouth so special. In addition to having more time to focus on her studies, she also found herself more immersed in the Dartmouth community.
“[The time off] really opened my eyes to the opportunities that Dartmouth gives you,” Patterson recalled. “Any athlete is one injury away from not being able to compete in the future, so I realized I needed to focus on my studies because no athlete can play forever. There are also awesome people here who are so talented. It is great to have the chance to meet people who are not just smart but have so many other talents and passions.”
Citing a lack of confidence on the pitch, Patterson endured a self-professed “difficult” junior season, though she did start all 13 of the team’s games she played. Eager to bounce back for her final campaign, she worked harder than ever to ensure it was not a disappointment.
“My junior season was quite difficult, but I worked really hard on my fitness prior to my senior season,” Patterson said. “I wanted to hit the ground running. I told myself that I was here to play, got my confidence back and it was nice to see the goals go in.”
Patterson’s hard work paid off. She led the team in both goals and total points to accompany her 16 starts. The most special moment of her senior fall, however? Her speech on Dartmouth Night during homecoming weekend in front of thousands of students and alumni. Her theme? Finding her “home away from home.”
“It was a huge honor,” said Patterson, reflecting on the nerves and excitement of that evening. “It was cool for me because I come from a different background and came to Dartmouth under different circumstances than most people, and to be able to tell people about that was incredible.”
Patterson still has another year to add to her story. As a candidate for the Thayer School of Engineering’s bachelor’s of engineering degree, she will remain in Hanover for the next academic year completing her coursework. While she will hang up her boots for the time being, Patterson still envisions lacing them back up again either with her national team or in the professional ranks.
Even if Patterson returns to her Hamilton, she acknowledges that she will still be far from home.
“Coming to Dartmouth is the best decision I have ever made,” Patterson said. “I love everything about this place, the small community, the snow, sophomore summer. I know it is easy to say that Dartmouth is my ‘home away from home’ because I come from so far away, but it seriously is.”