STAMFORD—She has an unassuming appearance, is shy and laconic around people she does not know well, and can easily blend into the crowd.
Then Westhill’s Emma Hart steps onto the playing field and her alter ego takes control.
“I’m a very competitive person,” said Hart, a senior who has been a four-year starter for both the Vikings’ field hockey and softball teams. “I just hate losing more than anything, so I get like feisty.”
That spirited attitude has carried her well. A midfielder, Hart will be one of the captains of the field hockey team this fall, looking to improve on a year ago, when it was 7-9-1, losing to eventual champion Darien in the first round of the state tournament.
Hart, who was recruited by several colleges, including a few at the Division I level, also recently gave a verbal commitment to play next year at Division III Union College. She is just awaiting academic acceptance.
It is a fitting achievement for a lifelong sports fanatic, underrated perhaps in part because of her dual personality.
“I get so excited talking about it because I love Union so much,” Hart said. “I love the girls. Sports have always been a big part of my life. I cannot picture myself not playing a sport. It’s always going to be a part of my life. Not playing was never an option.”
Until this summer, one of the most frustrating of Hart’s career. In Westhill’s final softball game last spring, a state playoff loss to Greenwich, Hart got injured in what she termed “not a glamorous way”: she turned her ankle in a hole coming out of the dugout and suffered a serious sprain. She played in the game, but was forced to miss both club field hockey season with Fairfield County United and travel softball.
“I didn’t want to take any chances,” Hart said. “I could run, but as soon as I cut or made sharp turns it hurt.”
Hart underwent physical therapy and spent a lot of time in the gym working with weights and running once her ankle healed.
“Weird, weird,” was how Hart described her altered summer routine. “Just because I’m always used to playing all the time and I felt like something was missing.”
That is because Hart’s usual sports schedule is anything but typical. In past summers Hart played both sports, but there were often conflicts. Tom Pia, the Vikings’ softball and Hart’s travel coach, allowed her to miss some practices and occasional weekend tournaments to accommodate her field hockey schedule.
It also showed Hart’s selfless side: she would attend workouts even knowing she might not be playing in games.
“In the summer I always played softball because that’s what you do in Stamford since you are little,” Hart said. “My travel coach then started telling my about my potential in field hockey and I needed to start playing pretty much year-round. I told Tom I needed to play both and he’s been like a father figure to me. I was lucky. A lot of coaches would have been like, if you’re not going to commit we’re not going to take you.”
Hart also had to juggle her two sports in the winter.
“There were some days I would go from field hockey to softball, change out of my gear and hit in the cage,” Hart said. “That was my whole day.”
Hart first took up field hockey in the 6th grade because she didn’t play a fall sport. She tried pretty much everything growing up, including water polo. She reluctantly gave up playing basketball at Westhill.
“I think I was good at everything but not phenomenal,” Hart said. “I’m not phenomenal now. But I wanted to get to the next level in one of my sports.”
One of the people excited about Hart’s dedication is Westhill field hockey coach Kevin DeAngelo.
“Emma’s determination is awesome,” DeAngelo said. “She’s always a go-getter. She’s a patient player on the field. She’s the type of kid that if I take her out of a game, she screams. She wants to be part of what’s happening. To just be the best she can be for the team.”
Hart has been a force during early workouts after being sidelined all summer.
“She’s come back in the last couple of days of practice really ambitious,” DeAngelo said. “She’s got that bug to start going.”
With fellow captains Ashley Rich, who is headed to play next year at UConn, and Jackie Forde, who also hopes to play in college, Hart has high expectations for the Vikings this fall.
“I’ve been playing with these girls since I was 11,” Hart said. “I’ve never been on a team without Ashley or Jackie in my life. I’m really excited for the season. I’ve never been more excited for a season. Ever.”