Top hockey players Luna Fokke and Elzemiek Zandee aim for a ticket to the Olympics

Competitors today, team members at the Paris Olympics tomorrow?

Luna Fokke en Elzemiek Zandee
Last year Luna Fokke and Elzemiek Zandee won the Pro League with the Dutch national team. Photo: Willem Vernes

On a warm Sunday afternoon, we’re sitting in the stands at Kampong’s main field at the Laan van Maarschalkerweerd. It’s what you expect from a top hockey game. There are lots of parents with children in the stands, which are a little over halfway full. It’s not quite as vibrant an atmosphere as some football games, but it doesn’t take much away from the experience. 

The match between Kampong and SCHC from Bilthoven is a true sister game. The door-to-door distance between the two teams is not much more than 10 kilometres. The rivalry is big. Annoyed, a Kampong fan says: “SCHC steals a lot of our players. Six of SCHC’s players are from Kampong, that’s a lot.”

Today, there isn’t much at stake. It’s the last match of the regular competition, and both teams have already placed for the playoffs. For Kampong, that’s the first time since 2010. For SCHC, making it to the finals for the national title has been pretty much a given since the start of the season. In Utrecht and Bilthoven, supporters are quietly hoping that both teams will meet each other in the finals later on. 

Still, emotions run high. After a controversial 0-1 (had there really been a 5-metre distance passed before the player entered the circle after a foul?), supporters increase the volume of their support for their teams. Thanks to a penalty in the fourth quarter, the match ends in 1-1. 

Olympic dream
On the field, the rivalry is much less present, say Luna and Elzemiek shortly after the match. “For us, playing SCHC, Amsterdam, or Den Bosch is just great, there’s not much difference between them.” Elzemiek agrees: “We don’t prepare differently for this match than we do for others.”

As they regularly played in Dutch youth selection teams, Luna and Elzemiek know each other well. Now they’re part of the ‘big’ national team, and are part of the preselection for the Paris Olympics, they often share rides from Utrecht to the national team’s training sessions and matches.

Both played for quite some time today. Plenty of opportunities to prove themselves, then. And that’s important, because both would love to survive the final decisions on the Dutch selection for Paris.

Six more players will have to be cut, and who those are will be announced on May 27. Scary and exciting, especially because playing for the Netherlands means that you automatically have a great chance of winning a gold medal. 

There are, by the way, two other UU students who have a chance of going to the Olympics. It seems a given that the top scorer of the competition, Frederique Matla, will join. The forward, who plays for Den Bosch, has been playing in the Dutch teams for years. She started a Master’s in Social Psychology in Utrecht this academic year. And Law student Eline Janssen, who’s in Luna’s team at Kampong, is also in the preselection. 

More expectations
“Playing in the Olympics is, of course, a huge dream,” Luna says. “But the only thing I can do is just keep playing hockey, and try my best.”

“If I’m honest, I’d say Luna has a better chance than I do. She also got to go to the European Championships,” Elzemiek says. “The step from youth teams to the adult teams is a big one. Now you’re suddenly in the field with players who have a lot more experience than you.”

Luna agrees with that. “They expect more of you. So I had a chat with the national coach, and I was told I should give myself some more time.” She listened to that advice, and the results speak for themselves. During the most recent Pro League, she played in eleven of the twelve matches.

Elzemiek, too, had her chances in the tournament that was ultimately won by the Netherlands. She usually plays in the defense for her own team, but the national coach put her in as a forward. And that was successful: she scored two goals. “You can put me anywhere,” she laughs. 

Student life
In these months, everything is about hockey, the two say. Luna: “We train twice or three times a week with our own team, and there’s physical therapy. And when there’s something to do for the Dutch national team, it’s really quite a lot.”

And it’s not as though they do a slimmed-down version of their studies, she insists. “We have to do the same as any other student.”

“But I’m very happy with how the UU treats us,” Elzemiek says resolutely. “The lecturers help a lot, and if a training session, match or tournament coincides with a class, there’s always something that can be arranged. I do miss a lot of classes, and I mainly study by reading the books and articles.”

Luna’s study programme is accommodating, too: “If I’m abroad, for example, I can take my exams online; they grant me an exception.”

Their social lives are slow right now. They have a lot of friends from their ‘hockey bubble’, or ones they’ve known for a very long time. When it’s possible, Luna likes going out with her group of friends, ‘the tooties’, who she knows from the Dutch youth selection. Elzemiek likes nights in which she can hang on the sofa with her friends and “watch bad TV”. 

But those kinds of evenings don’t happen often for the two. Still, they don’t necessarily miss the ‘true’ student life. “I’ve got a great balance,” Luna says. “It’s hard work, but it’s also very rewarding,” Elzemiek adds.

On to the finals
These are exciting times, then, for Luna and Elzemiek. In the semifinals of the playoffs, SCHC will play Amsterdam, and Kampong will play Den Bosch. The first matches were on Saturday. SCHC achieved a draw. For Kampong, the match ended in disappointment. it lost 0 - 3

On Monday, we’ll know which UU-students will also be playing each other in the finals of the national championship. After the finals, they’ll find out whether they’ll be going to Paris this summer.