Forget the politically correct participation trophies and the lessons athletics teach young players, sports is about one thing – winning. It’s been that way since the first ball was snapped, dribbled or hit with a bat or a stick and it will be that way 200 years from now.
When great athletes suit up for competition they aren’t focused on anything other than the final result. They have dedicated their lives to become great players for one reason – to win.
On April 20, 1986, Michael Jordan scores 63 points in an NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics. But his postgame comment was almost as memorable: “I’d give all the points back if we would have won the game,” he said. “I wanted to win that game so badly.” The Bulls lost 135-131 in double overtime.
While people will always remember the 63 points, they also will remember that Jordan and the Bulls lost that day. They also will remember that the Boston Celtics were the 1986 NBA champions.
And years from now people might remember the name Abigail Tamer, but they will certainly remember the two field hockey state championship trophies in the Dexter High School trophy case. Fortunately for Tamer, she doesn’t have to give back all those goals and assists she racked up in her four years at Dexter because she “won the game.”
“This is insane,” Tamer said moments after helping lead Dexter to its second straight field hockey state title in November. “To beat a team two years in a row in the finals like Pioneer that has been a powerhouse in field hockey for the past 40 years, means the world to me and the seniors of team 10 and team 11 and everyone on those two teams.”
Dexter, both this year and last year, was a team built around great players. These players were heavily recruited by the best programs in the country and are either at or heading to Division 1 schools. Tamer was clearly one of those great players – and maybe the best of the bunch.
She won a state title in early November and later that month was named Michigan Player of the Year 2020. It was only the second year of the award – Tamer won it the previous year in 2019 as well.
And the numbers she put up at Dexter are, well, Jordan-like.
In her first year as a freshman in 2017, she had 23 goals and 5 assists and then tallied 26 goals and 8 assists as a junior. Tamer had 36 goals and 14 assists in the regular season of her junior year and added five goals and two assists in Dexter’s playoff run which ended with the school’s first Division 1 title. This past season, on the way to a second title, Tamer had 26 goals and 18 assists. It all added up to – good thing phones have calculators – an amazing 111 goals and 45 assists in four years.
Her assist totals show how Tamer not only developed as a complete player, but also proves that she showed more confidence in her talented teammates. In her first two seasons, she had a combined 13 assists, which she surpassed in her junior year alone with 14. She then topped that with 18 assists as a senior – while still scoring 26 goals.
One of those 18 assists her senior year came in the championship game against Pioneer. After Tamer made it 1-0 in the first period, the senior stole the ball and took it along the baseline and fed a perfect pass to the penalty-stroke mark. Junior Gracie Burns was in perfect position and one-timed her shot past Pioneer goalie Ella Roberts to make it 2-0 in the 2-1 win over the Pioneers.
The state titles clearly mean a lot more to Tamer than all the numbers and awards, and shows why teammates, opponents, coaches and fans appreciated the way she played the game.
Kylee Niswonger, another one of those “great” Dexter players, met Tamer when they were about 4 years old and it’s been game on ever since. “Abby is one of the best players I’ve ever played with and it’s just an honor to play with her and be by her side,” Niswonger says. “We’ve played together for such a long time and that familiarity showed out on the field.”
Burns, another player heading to a D-1 school after signing with Michigan State, will return next year and be one of Dexter’s team leaders. She realizes she has some pretty big shoes to fill.
“The past seasons with Abby have been phenomenal,” Burns says. “She was and has been one of my biggest competitors. She not only pushed me harder than I thought I could ever go, she also taught me to be patient with the process. I’ve learned so much from her and I can’t wait to see her across the field in a few years.”
Tamer could always put the ball in the net and she also developed as a team leader during her four years at Dexter.
“I think my biggest role on the team was to be a role model and to help motivate the team,” she says. “A lot of players can get frustrated, especially with field hockey because it’s such a technical sport, and I always saw my role as someone who can help others with those technical challenges. And the captains on the team both this year and last year helped get everyone motivated and playing with confidence.”
Tamer will take on a much different role next year when she heads down the street to Ann Arbor.
“After my freshman year I narrowed my choices to four schools, but Michigan really stood out in the end,” she says. “Both my parents went there, my sister is there now and it’s always felt like home to me. It’s everything I could ask for. I think I will fit in and be challenged there both in field hockey and academically.”
And, yes, both of her parents were Wolverines.
Abby’s dad, Chris, played ice hockey at Michigan (1989-93) and for 11 years in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers. Her mom, Keely, played field hockey at Michigan (1989-93), twice serving as team captain, and has been one of the area’s top coaches of the sport for years.
Abby’s sister, Emma, was selected to the Michigan All-State First Team three times and was a key player on the Dreadnaughts’ 2014 Division 2 state championship team. A redshirt junior at U-M, Emma had a breakout season in 2019. The midfielder ranked second on the team with a career-high seven goals and was Academic All-Big Ten for the second consecutive year.
“Emma had a great season at Michigan which was really fun to watch,” Abby says. “She actually wears my mom’s number (31) as well which is very cool. I’m super excited to start playing with her.”
While Tamer is clearly a special player, she realizes she isn’t going to step right in at Michigan and be the star the first time she steps on the field. “I’m excited to fill that role at Michigan,” she says. “It’s a role I haven’t filled for Dexter in a couple years now and I’m excited to play with and learn from the older girls who have so much more skills and experience than I do.
“I already know a lot of the players on the team right now, and I’m very excited to fill the role of someone who is observing and learning each and every day.”
Abby says she is going to miss her Dexter teammates and having her mom as her coach.
“When I was younger, I hated being coached by my mom,” Abby says with a smile. “And it’s not because she was a bad coach. She is a great coach and I admire her so much. She’s been such an inspiration to me and our whole team. She works so hard for the sport in Michigan and the team here at Dexter.”
Abby admits that they didn’t always leave the game at the field.
“Oh, we bring it home with us,” she said with a smile. “We always like to talk strategy and ways we can get better and things we can improve on. It’s safe to say that field hockey does come up at the dinner table.”
For coach Tamer, it’s hard to talk about Abby without also talking about Niswonger, who is heading to the University of Maryland to play field hockey for the Terps.
“Abby and Kylee have been very important to this team,” she says. “They have played together a long time and work off of each other well and have meant a lot to this program. Not only because of what we’ve been able to accomplish with them as part of the team, but they also make us better in practice too which makes everyone better. They are both really good teammates and it’s been a gift to have players like them in the program for how they can elevate everyone’s play around them. We’ve been fortunate to have them.”
Tamer, who has been playing field hockey in Dexter since seventh grade, was named to the US Women’s Under 17 Junior National Field Hockey Team, the first Michigan high school player ever named to the squad. Tamer and Niswonger also were named to the US Field Hockey National Rise Team.
Abby, like everyone else, has been adjusting to life during a pandemic. The National Team is currently on hiatus and just doing online trainings. But Abby has already begun her U-M career.
“I actually started at Michigan this semester so should we have a season, we’ll get to practice together,” she says. While she wouldn’t be allowed to play as a grey shirt, she can’t wait to start mixing it up with the maize and blue on the practice field.
It will only be a matter of time until she helps Michigan start winning games – and titles. Because that’s what special players do. And Abby Tamer is a special player indeed.