When Dani Ackerman picked up the stick for the first time in the seventh grade, she never expected to burst onto the collegiate field hockey scene years later, starting in every game or eventually be named among the best players in the nation.
But this season, she accomplished just that.
On Dec. 1, Ackerman was recognized by the Longstreth/National Field Hockey Coaches Association, earning her a spot on the NCAA Div. III All-America Second Team. She is only the second Hawk in New Paltz field hockey history to gain All-American honors.
“Though I knew field hockey was going to become a huge part of my life, I never knew how far it would really take me,” Ackerman said. “As an eager seventh-grader, my dreams were to make the varsity squad by the time I got to high school. Becoming an All-American is something even my wildest dreams didn’t have in store for me.”
This third-year forward/midfielder has experienced her fair share of the spotlight this season, also earning election to First-Team All-SUNYAC and notching First-Team All-North Atlantic Region laurels. If the recognition isn’t adequate proof of her unrelenting dedication to her sport, then it can be found in the words of her coach, who cites her as one of the hardest-working, passionate and humble individuals to ever enter the program.
Ackerman’s love for field hockey ignited from her older sister Jamie’s passion for the sport – and as the younger sister, Ackerman was always looking to be like Jamie in every way. By seeing how much her sister loved playing field hockey, a career of her own began in the seventh grade.
Years later as a tiny and timid freshman player, Ackerman saw her fair share of the sidelines once she joined her high school squad. But by the time she completed her second season as a sophomore, she had worked to earn herself a starting position on the team.
“I was determined,” Ackerman said. “I started off as a timid player, but the more I played the more confident I got. I proved a lot of people wrong and really worked hard to take my game to the next level.”
When she joined New Paltz field hockey as a college freshman in the fall of 2012, Ackerman found community in the program and instantly became connected with her team on a personal level. This season, she earned captainship to the team alongside third-year back Jessica Caruana.
“It really is an honor to have become a role model figure to my teammates,” Ackerman said.
“These girls have been my sisters since the first day I arrived my freshman year. The talent and hard work from my teammates has pushed me to become a better player and led me to continue to strive for more.”
As Ackerman says that her team has pushed her to strive for her best, teammate fourth-year midfielder Deirdre O’Neill said that notion has always been reciprocated.
“Dani is the ultimate team player and leader,” she said. “At any point in a game or in practice, I can look over at her and know that she is giving everything she has – [and that] pushes everyone else to give everything they have as well.”
Ackerman and the Hawks notched a 15-7 overall record this season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Div. III Tournament after being named three-time SUNYAC Champions. Ackerman closes out her third season on the team with notable contributions to the team’s SUNYAC success over her time as a Hawk. But for her final season, she is looking for the ulti-
mate edge to her career: a national championship.In terms of Ackerman’s dominance on the
field, New Paltz Head Coach Shanna Vitale notes that she is the “playmaker” of the team. From her persistence in outworking opponents and phenomenal stick skills, to a powerful attack and relenting pursuit for the ball, Vitale said she knew Ackerman was destined to gain All-American honors.
“In the beginning of the season, I had made comments to colleagues and peers that Dani was going to become an All-American,” Vitale said. “She is the type of person who puts her whole heart and soul into whatever she does and she constantly is looking for the edge and to get better. She is very humble, focused and determined to be successful and also to make the people around her better. She’s exceptional – and she deserves every honor that she has received.”
Ackerman holds the second-time program record for both career goals (34) and career points (84). This season alone, she started in each of the 22 matchups the team played and led the team in shots (110) and shots on goal (73).
As one of six children, Ackerman’s biggest support system behind her throughout her collegiate field hockey career has always been her large family, she said. From traveling two and a half hours to New Paltz to see every home game, to following livestats and video feeds of the games they cannot be at, her family has been dedicated through it all, she said.
“I’ll never forget when we won our first SUNYAC Championship – I was crying hysterically in happiness as I walked over to my parents, and they were holding back tears themselves – in this moment I knew just how happy and proud they were,” Ackerman said. “I am forever grateful for my big, supportive family. They know how hard I’ve worked up to this point and they are so grateful to see me recognized for such an amazing honor.”
From being a member of the team for their three SUNYAC successes to gaining All-American honors this season, Vitale said that she is looking forward to see Ackerman enjoy her last season on the team.
“My goal is for her to continue to be one of the best players in the country and exceed what she did this year,” she said. “I know she is more than capable of it. She’s everything that I want her to be – and I am looking forward to watching her have an amazing senior year.”
As one so deep-rooted in family, Ackerman said she hopes to follow her older sister’s footsteps once more in the future. Her sister Jamie played field hockey at Div. II Adelphi University and had been offered to co-coach during her current time spent in graduate school, inspiring Ackerman to do the same one day – but only with the one who influenced her deep involvement in the sport.
“I look up to her in so many ways and cannot thank her enough for being such a great role model to me and helping me find the sport that I have become so passionate about,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play with her for two years in high school, and now the big dream is to coach alongside her one day. I can’t think of anything better than that.”