Michelle Vittese might have two Olympic Games and a Hockey World Cup under her belt, but the USA forward says that playing for the under-21s in events such as the Hockey Junior World Cup was a vital part of the learning curve that has made her the player she is today.
In fact, at the Rio Olympics, Michelle's energy and skill levels were one of the reasons the USA made such smooth progress through the pool matches at the Rio Olympics.
Although Michelle will not be in Chile to cheer on the junior team at this year's Junior World Cup in Santiago, she says she will be constantly watching their progress, albeit from afar.
Speaking to Michelle about her own memories of playing in two Hockey Junior World Cups, the first of which were held on home soil in Boston in 2009, she said: “I remember the Junior World Cup as being a lively atmosphere. I was very proud to represent my country and further to be able to do so on American soil. Boston was a fantastic host city, and I was proud to be able to wear USA colours to compete.”
Michelle has been a member of the national hockey set-up for so long she struggles to remember her debut, saying she: “thinks it might have been a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina while I was in a senior or junior high school.”
She does remember her first major tournament as a junior international was the Junior World Cup: she missed out on the Pan American Cup earlier that year through a knee injury.
Now, with more than 150 senior caps to her name, Michelle is an established member of the national side. She won her first senior cap in Valencia, Spain in 2011 – the first time she had played on a blue pitch.
Since then, she has played in two Olympic Games – Rio and London – and the 2014 Hockey World Cup in the Hague, plus the Champions Challenge, Hockey Champions Trophy and the Pan American Games, where she was part of the team that beat Las Leonas in both the 2011 and 2015 final.
She reflects back over her career to date: “My standout match to date is probably the last international match I played in, against Germany in the quarter-final of the 2016 Olympics. I remember it because it was the hardest I've ever taken a loss in my entire life. On a more positive note, the entire 2016 Olympic Games experience was incredible and I appreciate every moment I get to wear the USA kit; it makes me tremendously proud.”
One of the standout qualities that makes Michelle Vitesse such a force on the hockey field is her ability to just keep pushing her limits. She says that as she transitioned from junior to senior player: “I quickly learned that nothing will ever be given to you. I learned that in order to make an impact you have to fight and compete for every single second of each game. I learned that the game moves very fast, which means your brain has to think even quicker. I learned that confidence and belief in your own ability will take you a long way. I wouldn't say I was surprised, because I was expecting it to be very difficult - but nothing worth your time comes easy.”
And the Olympian is generous in her praise of those coming up through the ranks. “I remember watching our under-21 women compete in the last Hockey Junior World Cup and thinking that there were some exceptionally skilled individuals competing. I personally think the under-21 women's team has some talented youngsters and will do very well."
Follow Michelle on Twitter: @MichelleVitt55