As the clock struck midnight Sept. 1, York High junior Bentley Zabicki stared at her computer monitor while continually refreshing her inbox in hopes a torrent of recruitment emails would clutter her inbox.
Ten minutes after the moratorium on coaches sending college recruitment materials to athletes lifted, Zabicki received the email she wanted: Virginia Commonwealth University field hockey coach Laura Baker inviting her to tour the campus.
Zabicki, who had seen the campus for several field hockey camps over the years, visited the college for an overnight stay during which Baker offered her a scholarship to play for the Rams.
After visiting other campuses and garnering interest from roughly a dozen colleges, Zabicki went back to VCU for another visit with her parents and gave her verbal commitment to play for the Division I program.
Zabicki’s commitment to play field hockey at the next level has been a long time coming, starting when her older sister MacKenzie, who now plays field hockey at Bridgewater College, began playing in the sixth grade.
The younger Zabicki sister began playing field hockey shortly afterward, following in the steps of her older sister — kind of.
“She tried to teach me, but I didn’t really want to listen to her,” Zabicki said jokingly.
The two sisters developed what Zabicki described as a “healthy sibling rivalry” when it came to field hockey. This rivalry intensified when Zabicki made the varsity field hockey team at York as a freshman, making her teammates with MacKenzie, a senior.
“It was a little different having to play with each other,” Zabicki said of playing on the same team as her older sister. “Me being the younger one, I was always trying to do better and trying to outshine her.”
It was this drive to prove herself that led Zabicki to the organization that helped her reach her long-standing goals of playing Division I field hockey.
Focus Field Hockey, a Williamsburg-based field hockey club that looks to develop and promote high-caliber players who have ambitions of playing in college, became a second home for Zabicki as she began to hone her skills as a field hockey player.
“Bentley came in as a natural hockey player,” said Kristen McCann, one of Zabicki’s coaches at Focus. “She had a really nice touch on the ball, she just needed to clean up some fundamentals.”
Zabicki described the learning process at Focus Field Hockey as “break you down and build you up.” The process pushes athletes to their physical limits while working on the most basic field hockey skills until perfection is achieved. It is not meant to be easy, but the gains are worthwhile for the athletes who make it past the initial struggles.
“You start out with the basics,” Zabicki said. “You start out hitting on your knees. You get the motions and your hands right. And then you stand up. And then they let you start moving around with the ball. It’s a long process, but they start at the basics and build you up.”
Beyond the tangible improvements on the field, Focus also helped Zabicki, who holds a 4.2 GPA, grow as an individual.
“Prior to starting with Focus, I loved playing field hockey but I had some confidence issues,” Zabicki said. “I wouldn’t be confident in my play. I’d get down on myself and go, ‘Oh she’s so much better than me.’ But Focus taught me not to pay attention to anybody else. If you can’t be a confident player, you can’t have confidence in your skills and you can’t have confidence in your game.”
Since joining Focus, Zabicki has taken the reins at York, leading the team in scoring in back-to-back seasons with 17 goals. Her accomplishments garnered her First-Team All-Conference 25 honors, as well as honorable mentions for the 3A East region during her sophomore and junior seasons.
Zabicki has her sights set on bigger and better accomplishments before she graduates, which includes being named a team captain her senior year, as well as leading the Falcons to a conference championship while being recognized as an All-State player in the process.
Zabicki will continue training and playing with Focus in the offseason to achieve her goals.
“I don’t think I would be anywhere if I didn’t have Focus come into my life and if I hadn’t pursued their training,” Zabicki said. “I wouldn’t be near the person I am today relating to field hockey or in school.”