Villa Maria Academy senior central midfielder and captain Gia Whalen was recently voted the AACA’s Most Valuable Player for field hockey.
With a long and impressive field hockey record, both at Villa Maria and elsewhere, the University of Iowa rookie scored 21 goals and provided 21 assists for the Hurricanes this fall.
“Gia is a complete package, the likes of which are rare – that’s what makes her so dangerous and special,” said Villa Maria field hockey team head coach Katie Ordonio. “She can attack, distribute, dribble, defend – all with equal talent. What really sets Gia apart, however, is her work ethic, her desire to improve, and her commitment to her team and their goals.
One of Whalen’s playoff highlights was his game-winning goal in overtime against Hershey in the PIAA 2A State quarterfinal.
“Hershey was a very strong team and watched me closely the whole game,” Whalen said. “In overtime, I think it all depended on who wanted it the most. Once regulation time was over, the other team captains and I called the team together to calm everyone down and let them know we weren’t going to lose this game.
“The minute the whistle sounded in overtime, I knew I would do everything in my power not to make this my last game in high school. Hershey’s goaltender played very well and saved most of the shots aimed at her, but the minute the ball landed on my stick, I knew it was a chance to end the game. I knew I had to finish it, which I did.
As a junior at Villa Maria, Whalen scored 20 goals and was the MVP of a Hurricane team that advanced to the PIAA 2A State Quarterfinals. His favorite memory from that season was losing Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees Township (NJ), whose team was ranked second in the nation at the time.
“Beating Eastern was a testament to our team, and to me it represented what Villa field hockey is – well coached, brave, dynamic and a work ethic,” Whalen said.
Speaking of work ethic, even though Whalen scored 20 goals as a junior, she continued to try to improve her offensive game.
“One thing I really worked on this year was being an offensive threat,” Whalen said. “Before and after practice I was working on my shot (forehand and backhand) and trying to perfect my shot from the top of the circle where I normally shoot most of my shots.”
Among her many honors she has received over the past two years, he was selected to the first team of the National Invitational All-Tournament this year. Last year, she was selected to the NFHCA National Academy Team, was an USA MAX Field Hockey Team (first team), and was selected to the NFHCA High School USA Team (second team listen)) and the Pennsylvania High School field hockey team (first team).
She also captained the Villa Maria field hockey team that fall and provided her own brand of leadership.
“Gia is the most modest and humble person I have ever known,” Ordonio said. “Not only has Gia led our team to success with her hockey skills this season, but she has done so while creating a great environment for our young players through her leadership.
When Whalen was asked how she views her leadership role, she replied, “For me, leaders need to have a vision of where they want to be at the end and why that destination is so important, not only for themselves, but for the whole. crew. This year has been extremely important for our senior management to play a very active role with a young and inexperienced team. I put a lot of responsibility on myself to play every minute of the game and to set the pace for every game.
“Furthermore, Villa has a rich history of Villa Maria field hockey and a style of hockey that we love to play. As captains, we had to help ingrain that in our younger, less experienced players. With that as our goal, in addition to the field hockey game, we made sure to do some fun activities off the field so that when we stepped onto the turf, our chemistry was unmatched.
Whalen started playing field hockey in kindergarten at age 4. His mother played field hockey (as Gina DeFazio) for Holy Name High School (now Berks Catholic) and Temple University (1993-1997). All-American and an All-State selection in high school, Gina DeFazio (now Gina Whalen) was a three-year captain at Temple, made the first-team all-conference, and Academic All-American.
Gia said: “My main field hockey mentor would be my mother. She was my first coach and shared her love of field hockey with me from an early age. We are always competitive with each other, which is fun for us.
“The most influential person for me throughout my field hockey career would be Jun Kentwell, my coach for my club team WC Eagles. Not only did Jun push me to perform at my best on the field and outdoors, but she taught me my basics and skills and helped me develop my hockey IQ.
“Finally, my high school coach, Katie Ordonio, was just my biggest supporter and helped me deal with the stress of high-level field hockey while pushing me to be my best. She always wants the best for her players and creates a competitive but also family environment.
Gia enjoyed a long field hockey career away from Villa Maria. Her favorite field hockey experience outside of Villa Maria was when she played for the United States U19 National Team against Canada last May at the Conshohocken Proving Grounds.
“Today was super special for me because it was close to home, which made it possible for all my friends and family to come see me for the first time in this (US National) uniform,” Whalen said.
Whalen, whose favorite academic course at Villa Maria is public speaking, is heading to the University of Iowa as an indecisive major, but eventually plans to go into communications.
“When I first went to visit the University of Iowa, I was blown away,” Whalen said. “Iowa has an incredible culture within each of the athletic departments, the university and its community. The Iowa field hockey staff and team instantly made me feel at ease, safe and home. I’m super excited to attend next fall. I’m not sure what path I want to go yet, but I love sports and I think maybe coaching or being at home one day. television as an announcer would be very fun and intriguing to pursue.
Ordonio said, “We were so lucky that Gia chose to be part of our program and we will always be grateful for the passion and effort she put into both of us every day as a hurricane. I feel very lucky to have worked with her and know that we will all be cheering for her as she plays in Iowa and beyond.
Fun Facts – Gia Whalen
Favorite book: The Hate You Give.
Favorite TV show: One Tree Hill.
Favorite movie: Miracle.
Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant.
Favorite pre-game song: Feel So Close by Calvin Harris.
Favorite team: University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
Favorite place to visit: Ocean City, NJ
Favorite pre-game meal: Banana peanut butter
Family members: parents Tom and Gina, brother Brady, dogs Zucca and Sullivan.
(To be selected as the Lead Athlete of the Week, a student-athlete must first be nominated by their school.)