Louisa Boddy likes her new teammates. The chemistry between them is great, so good that after losing seven starters (one to injury, the rest to graduation), the UConn field hockey team is 13-0 and ranked third in the country.
She likes the field hockey facilities at UConn. They're nothing like athletic facilities in her home country of England, which are rather Spartan.
She liked that, once she joined the team, she got free field hockey gear, shirts and sweats. In England, university players pay for everything, including travel and uniforms.
She likes the media attention, which her teams never got in England; Boddy, a graduate student at UConn from Derbyshire, England, who plays defense and is third in scoring on the team, was in Faces in the Crowd in Sports Illustrated last week.
She also loves that there are four other players from Great Britain playing for the Huskies.
So Boddy, 23, is not too homesick, except for one thing.
"I miss my baked beans," Boddy said. "I love baked beans."
But, she was reminded, we have baked beans here.
"But not proper ones," Boddy protested.
They're horrible, she said to her British teammates nearby. "Aren't they?"
"I found some English ones," she said. "I just had them today. They're epic. You have to try them. They're in a can and they're amazing."
Baked beans (navy beans in tomato sauce) on toast are a breakfast staple in Great Britain. (Boddy also is not keen on all the preservatives in U.S. bread, either, and prefers English bread.) But other than that, she is doing just fine.
And the Huskies are happy to have her and her British counterparts.
"It's been an ongoing trend in our sport, the past 20 years — the top teams have international players," UConn coach Nancy Stevens said. "We have had two or three a year. Then we'd get into the NCAA tournament and [opponents] would have six starting international players. It's had us re-evaluate our recruiting."
Paul Caddy, UConn's associate head coach, is British and has many connections in England, which won the bronze medal in field hockey in the Olympics this year.
Of the current group, junior goalkeeper Sarah Mansfield came first, two years ago. She went to Millfield, a prep school in Caddy's hometown of Somerset. Mansfield has given up nine goals in 12 games and has five shutouts. She was an All-American last year and the Big East goalkeeper of the year.
"Part of [UConn's success] has been that Sarah Mansfield has been outstanding in goal for us," Stevens said. "It gives you an opportunity to win the close games.
"She's really one of the best athletes on the team. She could play on the field for us."
Mansfield was in her gap year after graduating high school, working, when Caddy emailed her and asked her if she was interested in UConn.
"It was a great opportunity," Mansfield said. "I didn't really know that much about it. I knew that the basketball was pretty good.
"Compared to England, these facilities are crazy, they're so good. The coaching … and you have a trainer, strength and conditioning."
Last year, Chloe Hunnable came over. Hunnable, a sophomore forward from Halstead, was named Big East offensive player of the week last week for the fourth time. She leads the team in points (eight goals, nine assists).
Hunnable, 20, had played with the under-16 and under-18 national teams and had a lot of experience playing with older players.
"It made me tougher," she said. "At higher levels, people push you around more."
When Caddy asked her if she wanted to play for UConn, Hunnable wasn't sure. Her father initially said no, it was too far away. But Hunnable knew she had to take advantage of the opportunity.
She has adjusted well to life here.
"I find Americans more friendly," she said. "Food portions are huge. Sports and stuff here, it's extreme. When I walked into Gampel for the first time, I was astounded. It's huge.
"The first football game I went to, I cried. I just got so excited, hearing the marching band, seeing the cheerleaders, everybody going crazy. It was like the biggest thing I had ever gone to."
She even says, "Yeah," now like an American. It drives her mother crazy.
UConn brought in Boddy and another graduate student, midfielder Katherine Baker, this year. Both are starters. Stevens knew with so many players graduating, she would need to fill gaps quickly in order to maintain the high level of the program. The international players, even the freshmen, are generally older and more experienced in international play than the U.S. players.
"They don't play like freshmen when you bring them in," she said.
In England, they generally go to college for three years and have a year of eligibility remaining. Boddy is getting her master's in sports management.
The Huskies have eight international players, including one from Canada. Stevens doesn't want to bring too many players from overseas, effectively denying opportunities to American players. She remains committed to developing American talent. (Two UConn players are on the national team and one, Melissa Gonzalez, played for the Olympic team.)
"My feeling is, you want a good balance," she said. "You bring in top international players, it's going to raise the level of your players.
"We carry 24 players. We still have a good number of Americans. It's important we develop American talent. But it is an issue. You want to make sure you keep everything in balance."