Fantastic Voyage: Spanish Tandem Hitting High Notes for Rider Field Hockey

“Ladies of Spain, we adore you.” Even without the accordion music that usually accompanies those lyrics (or something very close to them), the words still describe the feelings of the Rider community toward field hockey standouts, junior Virginia Egusquiza and freshman Sandra Penas.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

“Ladies of Spain, we adore you.”

Even without the accordion music that usually accompanies those lyrics (or something very close to them), the words still describe the feelings of the Rider community toward field hockey standouts, junior Virginia Egusquiza and freshman Sandra Penas.

Currently the top two scorers in the entire Northeast Conference (NEC), Egusquiza and Penas both hail from The Kingdom of Spain, or Reino de España; Egusquiza from Getxo, while Penas calls Barcelona home. Together, they have led Rider to an 12-3 record so far this year, 5-0 in the NEC.

“Virginia has helped raise our level of play in her short time here with us,” said Rider head coach Lori Hussong. “She is hardworking, yet humble, and continues to be a huge factor on the field for us. Without her presence, our program would not be playing at the level we are.”

Egusquiza was the NEC Field Hockey Player of the Year in 2009 and this year ranks fourth in the nation in assists. As a freshman, she was the 2008 NEC Rookie of the Year after choosing Rider over Syracuse University. “I visited Syracuse; it was nice,” Virginia said. “But, I liked Rider so much more, the coaches and the players.”

Penas currently ranks 19th in all of Division I in goals and is the leading freshman scorer in the nation. She has earned NEC Rookie of the Week honors three times and was even presented with an NEC Player of the Week award, a rare accomplishment for a freshman.

“Sandra is really starting to get acclimated to our style of game in the United States,” Hussong said. “The more experience she gets, the better she will be. She is definitely a great scorer.”

The first time Penas set foot on American soil was when she visited Rider. “I love it here,” Penas said in her thick, Castilian-accented Spanish. “The fact that Virginia was here helped me make my decision to come here. We had friends in common in Spain and I talked with her through the Internet. She told me about the University and the team and the coaches, how it was like a small family.”

Having Egusquiza here, at the very least, gave Penas someone to talk to. “We never speak English at home,” Penas said.

“No one does,” Egusquiza added.

“I like having Sandra here,” Virginia said. “She’s a great player, but I also like having her here off the field. It is nice to talk in Spanish sometimes. Sometimes we talk in English because we don’t want to be rude in front of the girls, but when we are alone, we speak Spanish.”

In the feature film A League of Their Own, baseball manager Jimmy Dugan explained to a player who thought professional baseball was too hard that, “It’s supposed to be hard. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great! If it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it.” Egusquiza feels the same way about living in a foreign land.

“The best thing about being here is being able to go to school and play field hockey,” she explained. “Back home, the universities don’t have teams, so I would play on a club team separate from school. The hardest part of being here is trying to play field hockey and keep up with my school work. That takes up a lot of time. I spend a lot of time studying, and getting a great education. It is hard, doing it in a second language, but I really like it.”

Following the death of Spanish dictator Generalisimo Francisco Franco in 1975, rapid economic modernization produced a dynamic and rapidly growing economy, allowing the nation to become a global champion of freedom and human rights. Spain joined the European Union in 1986. “I don’t like Franco,” Penas said.

Like her countrymen of the mid-1970s, however, Penas does like her independence. “The biggest difference so far in living here compared to home is that at home, my parents are always helping me,” she said. “Here I am by myself, making my own choices, my own decisions. That is good and bad, so far, but I like it.”

An outstanding athlete, Penas is an accomplished skier, tennis player and sailor, but prefers field hockey. “Field hockey is a team sport,” she explained. “It gives you something the individual sports cannot. Here, you live with your teammates and share experiences with them. That is better.”

“I like field hockey best because it is a group sport,” Egusquiza said, echoing her teammate’s sentiments. “You learn how to live with people and deal with problems.”

Penas is majoring in Economics, while Egusquiza studies International Business, and both hope to earn their degrees before returning to Spain to use them. “We have our families there,” Egusquiza said. “But I think I would like to work with an American company there.”

Spain is known for exporting cars and wine, but Virginia Egusquiza and Sandra Penas may be the best things to arrive in the United States from there since Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.

Or even Pablo Picasso. Like Picasso, Egusquiza and Penas can perform works of art with a piece of wood in their hands. But whereas Picasso used a brush, Rider’s Ladies of Spain create movement and fluidity with their hockey sticks.

Just not to accordion music.

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(left to right) Sandra Penas and Virginia Egusquiza celebrate a goal during a recent game.