There is a saying in hockey: one shift, one period, one game. The Dexter football team has followed the “win the day” approach – going 1-0 that day whether in practice or in a game.
Most great teams take things one step at a time – it’s how you climb the ladder and eventually reach the top. The Dexter field hockey team is one of those “great” teams and they too play with a certain one-step-at-a-time mentality. As they begin the playoffs today (Oct. 22) they are not focusing on anything other than the present.
The Dreadnaughts enter the postseason as the top seed and face Detroit County Day at Al Ritt Stadium in a first-round match. After coming up a little short last year, the Dreads have unfinished business. It’s been a great season for Dexter field hockey – but there are few more wins to be had.
“My team has such a drive to win every ball and I can say that we are all such good friends on and off the field,” says Kylee Niswonger, the Dexter senior and one of the best field hockey players in the state. “I think we are good for many reasons. Having coaches that hold us to such a high standard makes us better. Also our practices can be fun but even when they are extremely fun they are still intense. I truly think Team 10 grows every day.”
Team 9 lost last year in the state semifinals to Saline.
“My season was great last year and our team did very well in season,” Niswonger says. “Unfortunately, we lost in the semifinals against Saline. That was a little upsetting because we were working so hard to make it to the finals.”
Team 10 hopes to take this season another step further.
“Our goals were to win the SEC Red title (check) and win States (TBD),” Niswonger says. “To accomplish these goals we need to treat every practice like it’s a game and in games play like it’s a practice, calm and collected when out-letting and when in the circle. Every single person on our team is hard working and so motivated.”
Niswonger’s incredible talent goes beyond Dexter and beyond Michigan. Only 16 years old, she is a MaxField Hockey Top 50 player in the nation for the 2021 class. She also was selected to the Top 40 player list for the West Region and recently made the Max Field Hockey All-American Watch List.
But there is a reason why this story began with TEAM instead of Kylee – here’s why.
“As exceptional as she is as an athlete, she’s even more exceptional as a person, teammate and friend,” says Dexter Coach Trish Machemer. “As both a HS and youth sport coach for over 35 years, I’m struck by young athletes not being able to congratulate or support their friends as they vie for sports on the same competitive teams. Kylee is not that athlete or that person. While highly competitive, she is always able to acknowledge, support and congratulate the accomplishments of her teammates, even when she was competing for the same spots. She truly puts the team and her teammates above herself.”
If she puts her team first, it was only fair to do that here.
Kylee’s athletic nature began at home. The daughter of David and Karry Niswonger, Kylee grew up in an “athletic family.” She also grew up in a Dexter family – both her parents when to DHS.
“My parents are very loving but they push me to go above and beyond my limitations,” she says. “I was raised in a sports loving family and found that sports brought a lot of lessons in which my parents taught me to be a strong young lady.
“My parents taught me a lot through sports. Being at every game they help me grow as an athlete as they talk about the good old days when they played. We talk a lot about the mental aspects of sports and with their help I have become the athlete I am today and I am very proud of how they influence me every day to show up and be the best me.”
And to be the best comes with facing and conquering unique challenges and Niswonger has never shied away from a good challenge. Playing against the top players in the country is an honor but also a responsibility.
“The level is way different than the level is in Michigan,” Niswonger says. “While competing with people from all around the world the pace of play is way faster than I have ever played. While I was at the Junior National Camp I had to get used to the pace of play. I picked it up pretty fast but it was definitely a change.”
She must have picked it up pretty fast – she was invited back to the next round in January. That camp will decide the final National Team.
“Then there are more camps to see who travels or not and if I make that I get the opportunity to play in England,” she says.
When Kylee was younger, softball was her go-to sport. “For the longest time I thought I would play softball in college because my whole family was into softball,” she said. “When my older sister Megan started playing for Pinnacle (field hockey) and she told me how much she loved it. I wanted to do everything my sisters did.”
So in third grade, Kylee started playing field hockey. She played Rec & Ed for about three years before joining Pinnacle in the sixth grade. “I like how fast paced the game is and how you’re always moving,” she says.
There are only three field hockey clubs in Michigan and Pinnacle is, well, the pinnacle for Niswonger. “It is such a great program,” she says. “My coach, Nancy Cox, does so much for all who wear the Pinnacle uniform. She has made me such an advanced player by teaching me to control the controllables and to pay attention to detail.”
While she plays field hockey year round, she makes time for basketball and softball. In fact, she has played varsity in both softball and basketball since she was a freshman. Great athletes can do great things.
“I enjoy playing basketball and softball as well, I think it makes me more versatile,” she says. “A lot of college coaches that I talked to haven’t seen a lot of multi-sport athletes and they were glad to hear that I loved to play more than one sport. I have thought a lot about focusing just on field hockey but I think even with being a multi-sport athlete I still have extra time to go up to the fields and get better.”
She will take her game to another level next year – playing for Maryland, one of the top programs in the country. (Sidenote – the Terps were ranked No. 2 in the country before Michigan beat them 1-0 last week).
“I am reserved around people I don’t know, but at Maryland’s summer camp I went outside my comfort zone so fast it was like I was home,” she said. “The coaches said all the right things to me and my family whenever we would talk. That was a major reason, another reason is that I love the campus and how compact it is for a big D1 school.”
While she can’t wait to get to Maryland or the January National Team camp, Niswonger has some unfinished business here with Team 10. And that starts today – one play, one half, one game at a time.