From Germany to the Final Four: Paula Heuser’s journey
By Aaron Cheris
Feb. 17, 2015
Paula Heuser’s field hockey career at the University at Albany was only supposed to last one season.
Thankfully for everyone in the UAlbany community, Heuser decided to stay.
This past season, as a sophomore, Heuser was the team’s leading goal scorer as the field hockey team became the first team in UAlbany history to reach the NCAA Final Four.
“It was never my dream to go to the U.S. to study, it was random and I just wanted to do it for a year,” Heuser said. “I really liked it the first semester so I continued.”
For Heuser, the road to the purple and gold was a long one. Born in Germany, Heuser started playing field hockey when she was just eight years old. By the time she was a teenager, she was already making club teams. After feeling comfortable with UAlbany head coach Phil Sykes, Heuser decided to commit to the school.
Even though Heuser earned America East Rookie of the Year her freshman season, her adjustment to American college life was a difficult one. “The first semester was hard. I was homesick a lot,” Heuser said. “People are different and hockey is different and speaking a different language is hard, of course.”
During her freshman year, Heuser scored 17 goals and added 11 assists, but the Great Danes were unable to make it to the NCAA Tournament, as they were defeated by UNH in the America East championship game in 2013. “That was my motivation all summer long, just to beat UNH again and come back,” Heuser said.
This past season, Heuser and the Great Danes would get their chance, but not before a grueling regular season schedule. In September, the UAlbany team went on a road trip through California, and that trip proved to be a defining point of the season. “It was really nice. It was really team bonding. We had a good time,” Heuser said. “We won against Stanford, a real big team. We had a good hotel with a pool and we all jumped into the pool after the game.”
The games weren’t the only memorable part of the trip. “It was a lot of fun. Then we went to San Francisco on the day off and did some sightseeing. That was nice to see that,” Heuser added.
After beating Fairfield in the America East tournament semifinals, Heuser and UAlbany got what they wanted: a rematch against UNH with a championship on the line. In the game, Hueser got cut on her forehead during the first half, but came back to score two goals in a 5-0 UAlbany win, giving the Great Danes a berth in the NCAA Tournament. As Hesuer recalled, her forehead wasn’t the only thing nagging her on that day. “My knee was actually the problem. I actually got stitches on my knee after the game,” Heuser said. “After I got in, I was so pumped to fight back and win.”
Prior to this season, UAlbany had never won an NCAA Tournament game. Facing a first round game against ACC Champion Wake Forest, it looked like UAlbany’s season would end there. In that game, the Great Danes were able to pull off a 2-1 upset for the program’s first NCAA Tournament win. “We weren’t even expecting it,” Heuser said of the win. “We were thinking if we had to pack at the hotel and take our bags to the game because we would have to leave later.”
The Great Danes wouldn’t be the ones packing anytime soon. In their next game against Maryland, the tournament host, UAlbany was again able to pull off a 2-1 upset victory, sending the host team home and sending the Great Danes to the Final Four. “It was the best moment ever of my sports career in those last seconds,” Hesuer said of the win over Maryland. “There’s a video on YouTube and I’ve re-watched it so many times and I get goose bumps every time. It’s so cool.”
Heuser said she never could have expected making it to the Final Four. In the Final Four, UAlbany fell 1-0 to UConn on a questionable call by the officials. “We watch it after the game, that was definitely out of bounds,” Heuser said of the play, which resulted in UConn’s lone goal. “I still get angry.”
Despite the defeat, UAlbany had finished a historic season. Heuser finished with 29 goals and 11 assists and was named the NFHCA National Player of the Year and also won the prestigious Honda Sport Award for Field Hockey. Heuser said she, “had no idea,” what the Honda Sport Award even was until she received it.
Now just finishing her sophomore year, Heuser still has two more years left as a Great Dane. “My goal isn’t to score the same amount of goals or anything. I’ve got to have more responsibility in the team,” Heuser said. “I’ve just got to keep working. I try not to think too much about the awards and all that. I’ll just keep having fun playing.”
Heuser and the Great Danes will begin their title defense in the fall.