c/o Max Forstein

c/o Max Forstein

In the last segment of “Highlighting Black Athletes,” we are featuring a top player from the Wesleyan women’s field hockey team: defender Imani Ochieng ’25. For her outstanding performance this past season, she earned First Team All-NESCAC honors and was also recently named one of the team captains for the upcoming season. The Argus sat down with Ochieng to talk about the importance of team bonding, her relationship with her family, and her sentiments about being a Black female athlete. 

The Argus: Can you talk about the values that you and your teammates instill in your team? 

Imani Ochieng: I think in a general sense, we have a really unique culture. We’re very specific. Within our team we have our own different teams. We have different committees for different parts of life on and off campus. We have our food committee, social committee, social justice committee, mental health committee, and we have a really good team culture.

Our values are having an environment of inclusivity in all aspects of life so that everyone feels that they have a safe space to not only express how hard they are working on the field or in the gym, but whether they need an extra break with their mental health because they’re struggling. Even if you don’t want to go to everyone on the team, there’s certain people to talk to. And obviously we are very much there for each other, which I think helps bring together our team chemistry on the field. The bonds that we have on the field are also translated off the field. There is no hierarchy of “You can’t interact with someone of a different grade.” I think that is because of our values. 

A: Can you also talk about your experience playing with your teammates?

IO: I am a very outgoing person. I think I’ve always been, and I like to build connections wherever I am. I think that my team has always made me feel comfortable to continue acting in that type of way. I have a great bond with everyone on my team. I like to go get dinner with people in different grades. [My teammates] never made me feel like I have to hide my life. They’ve always—even the coaches—let all of us express who we are and have fun with each other.

A: What is a memorable highlight of your field hockey career? 

IO: My high school didn’t have a varsity field hockey team, so I played club. My dad coached field hockey since before I was born, so it kind of happened naturally. I played other sports, but I played club field hockey from when I was in sixth grade. I would say my favorite memory before [starting at Wesleyan] was winning the championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. On top of having the energy from holding up this big Mickey Mouse trophy, we also had day passes at Disney World, and getting to go to those things after you have been sweating in the field […] really stands strong in my memory. 

In terms of here [at Wesleyan], I would say my favorite memory was when we went against Tufts [this past year]. We were very much underdogs, and it came down to the last minute. That last goal that Helen [Deretchin ’25] scored off a stroke, and you have everyone running in, and you can really just feel all the love and remember that you worked so hard, day in and day out.

A: How did you first get into field hockey?

IO: I actually started off not wanting to play field hockey because both my parents played field hockey. My dad was an Olympian in field hockey, my mom was almost an Olympian in field hockey, and they were always like, “field hockey, field hockey, field hockey.” I played club soccer and club basketball, but I was always at my dad’s practices helping out. I don’t want to say it was passed down genetically, but it was kind of one of those things that came more naturally to me. 

A: What made you choose Wesleyan as the school to help with your academics and athletics?

 IO: [It] was COVID year, which was a little hard for recruiting and everything, but then I started saying, “You know what, I want to go to a place where I can put myself first and where I can focus on my academics as well.” Our environment for recruiting was online. It was a bunch of Zooms [with] all the teams and coaches and everything. I remember my Zoom here [at Wesleyan], and I had a bunch of other ones, and there were two juniors at the time, and they took us into two breakout rooms and said, “Listen guys, I know everyone wants you to think that it is just school and field hockey, but let me just break it down.” They wanted us to have fun with all these clubs and the football field in the middle of campus. Everyone goes from field hockey games to football games, and all the sports support each other. For me, that was a very big thing. Knowing that there is so much excitement here and [having chances] to share that with other people attracted me, as well as the fact that I could play field hockey with one of the girls who plays here. I played with her my freshman year when she was a senior.

A: How have sports served as a way for underrepresented athletes such as Black women to have a voice?

IO: I think that it inspires a need for passion. I think it forces you to realize that nothing is going to be given to you or put in your lap. It’s hard to accept that, but once you accept that, you push yourself to be so much stronger […] because at the end of the day, you’re gonna look different than a lot of people. And when you play, you have to put in extra work, and you’re going to be different because of the attitude you carry on and off the field, and you have to have that extra level of commitment and focus on the relationships you are able to create. 

A: What does it mean to be a Black female athlete?

IO: I think it comes down to what I was saying before, about not letting yourself fall into this pattern of thinking, “I wasn’t chosen for this because of this potential disadvantage.” I’d rather take that and say, “I’m different and I am going to be recognized for more than just the color of my skin.”

A: What advice would you give to young girls looking to get involved in sports who don’t know where to start?

IO: I would say to try something new with your friends and not go into something expecting yourself to be the best. I think that is a very irrational expectation to have. But just have someone you feel comfortable with and have something that you enjoy and have fun doing. It can be playing on a volleyball team or saying, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go watch the softball team with my friends later, you want to go do that?”

A: What are you looking forward to for the offseason and next season?

IO: I am looking forward to how hard we can push each other. For the offseason, we’re not playing games, so [we’re] competing against ourselves. We want to see how everyone’s become the best so that we can look forward to doing so much better than we did. I feel like that is a good mentality to hold.

In terms of next season, I am excited to get those exciting wins with the team that we built. We have such a close-knit environment of pushing each other. We try to emphasize that if you play a certain amount of minutes, you are not more important than anyone. We try to emphasize everyone as a whole, whether you are on the field the entire game, or you step on for two minutes, or even the people on the sidelines. That energy from the bench translates to players in the field and vice versa. 

TA: Any rituals before a game?

IO: For me, I need to take my own space, especially when we are getting ready in the locker room. I have my own music blasting in my headphones, and I can’t hear anyone. I braid two people’s hair before a game and clear my head and let go of anything that is bothering me, because once I walk onto that field I am locked in. 

TA: Who is your favorite Black athlete?

IO: My dad and my brother. My brother is one of the best athletes I have ever seen. He’s fast, he’s agile. He plays soccer and basketball, and he is one of the most humble people. I think that he inspires me to work hard, and he is so spirited and kind to whoever he interacts with. In competition, he is fighting for what he needs to get his goal, but the most important thing is to remember who you are. He taught me that.

My dad is the fire side of it. He will run you into the ground, [and] he will tell you that it’s that hard work. He is always pushing me, but even to this day he’ll still go on those runs with me and practice with me hitting the ball as a 40-year-old man. And it  builds up my abilities because I know I can compete with more time [practicing] the sport. [It] helps build my confidence in myself, and even if I try to get down on myself, my dad is like, “No, you are fine, get up, next round.”

Oluchi Chukwuemeka can be reached at ochukwuemeka@wesleyan.edu.

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