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MERRITT RAISES PANTHERS' STOCK FIELD HOCKEY STAR PLAYS ON INTERNATIONAL STAGE

Your respect for Robin Merritt's game rises a notch not after you see her beat an opponent, but rather on those rare occasions when the roles are reversed.

"I never give up," said Merritt, a two-time all-state field hockey player from Sweet Home. "You can't get down on yourself after you get beat. You can't hang your head."

While Merritt has starred for Sweet Home for five years, she's also gotten massive exposure playing nationally and internationally. In the past four years, she's been to the Netherlands twice, England, Belgium and all over the United States. "The best part about Europe is everyone knows the game really well," she said. "It's not a hit-and-chase game, it's a passing game, and that's how it should be."

Merritt has a quick first step, she thrives on a fast surface and is excellent at tackling back after a miss.

In December, she will travel to Rutgers University to try out for the under-18 Select National Team, which will tour the U.S. and Canada playing a tournament schedule.

"The (national) tryouts aren't really stressful," she said. "I don't go in there saying, 'I've got to make it.' That's putting too much pressure on myself, and then I end up not playing like I can."

Merritt's national tournament experience is extensive. She was an alternate on the Junior World Cup team for which she trained in San Diego at the U.S. Olympic Center. She is a two-time member of the U.S. under-16 Select National Team, and a three-time Junior Olympian. She participated in the Futures National Tournament for four years and has played on the Empire State Games team the past four years.

Merritt, 17, hasn't decided on a college yet. She was invited to go on 19 official visits to NCAA Division I schools, but has narrowed that down to the allotted five: Duke, Harvard, James Madison, Northwestern and Princeton. She carries a 97 average.

Like most young, promising athletes at Sweet Home, Merritt started out playing volleyball while in middle school. She then became involved in the field hockey Futures Program the summer after seventh grade. The Futures Program is a talent identification program on the U.S. level.

"I really thought she'd stay with volleyball," said field hockey coach Lynn Shanahan. "The program is so storied and it's got the tradition and the reputation. So when I saw her on the hockey field as an eighth grader, I was the happiest person around."

Merritt plays midfield for the Panthers, the No. 1-ranked team in the Western New York Coaches poll. Merritt's 22 goals in 11 games leads the ECIC.

"She's a very persistent player, and has showed a great deal of perseverance over the years," Shanahan said. "She's very team-oriented and unassuming. For an athlete who's attained the level she has, that's a great quality."

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