When the Indian women’s hockey team take on the United States of America in their FIH Olympic Qualifier, their hopes up top rest on 19-year-old forward Lalremsiami.
Despite her tender age, the striker has made a spectacular start to life with the senior team, turning into one of Sjoerd Marijne’s go-to players when in pursuit of a goal.
It wasn’t always a rosy path though for the youngster who had to work very hard to put her state of Mizoram on the hockey map of India.
Small town girl
Hailing from a tiny hamlet in Mizoram by the name of Kolasib, Lalremsiami learnt about the sport of hockey only when she was 10 years old when it was introduced to her at school. A primarily agrarian region, sports were never considered a serious vocation - let alone hockey - in Mizoram.
There was only one recognised hockey institute for the entire state of Mizoram which lay in Thenzawl, more than 150 kilometres from Kolasib.
“Hockey isn’t very famous in my village; very few people played the sport. However, I was always interested in playing hockey so I had to move to Thenzawl,” explained Lalremsiami in an interview with the Olympic Channel.
“Thenzawl was very far from my village so I had to move into their hostel in my early teenage years. Initially, there weren’t the best of facilities there, we did not have a [astro] turf ground so we used to play on grass,” she added.
The youngster played on grass surfaces for most of her hockey career and made the switch to turf only when she was selected to play in a few national tournaments in New Delhi.
“Initially, it was very difficult to adjust to turf hockey as it is very different from grass. So we used to arrive early and train specifically to adapt to playing on turf. That has proved to be very helpful for me to get acclimatised to playing on turf fields,” the 19-year-old revealed.
Lalremsiami performed brilliantly on the domestic hockey circuit and soon found herself in India’s squad that bagged a silver at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires. That medal-winning performance helped her solidify a spot in the senior team as she became a regular starter and played in the previous women’s World Cup as well as the 2018 Asian Games.
The teenager was in splendid form in the recently concluded tour of Great Britain, scoring a crucial equaliser in one of the games. Now with that tour behind her, the youngster has set her sights on “the most important match of her career” - the FIH Olympic Qualifier against the USA.
For the young forward, the recent tour against the world champions was the best possible preparation that her side could have had for the American challenge.
“This tour against Great Britain is going to be very beneficial for us because both sides play a similar style of hockey. Both sides tend to play a physical game and are very strong. They are also good on the attack,” believes Lalremsiami.
The Indian eves played the USA in a group game at the 2018 FIH Women’s World Cup where the match ended in a 1-1 stalemate. Lalremsiami was part of the Indian teamsheet on that night and believes that experience has helped her and the team gauge the opponent better.
“In the World Cup game, our defence was very sturdy but we could not create much going forward in attack. Therefore, we’ve trained more specifically on our attacking plays and feel more relaxed heading into the qualifier.”
“Since the beginning of 2019, the focus has been on qualifying for the Olympics and we believe we are a good side. The idea is to play fearlessly and get over the line,” the teenager added.
Despite the meticulous training and India’s home advantage, Lalremsiami believes the visiting opponents could be tough to crack, but she is geared for a competitive couple of matches come the first week of November.
“The United States have a very good, physical team. They would be giving it their best shot here as both teams want to qualify for the Olympics. We can’t say now if we’d go through or them. We’d have to wait for the game,” she said with a laugh before signing off.