CHATHAM, NJ - Noelle Bessette and her father, Michael, have a bond that few, if any, in New Jersey can claim.
They both love to play field hockey and they both achieved national recognition for their prowess in the game.
Dr. Bessette grew up playing boys field hockey in California and played on the USA Junior National Team in 1985 and 1986. Since moving to the East Coast at the age of four, Noelle has followed in her father's footsteps, making the AAU Junior Olympic Team this past summer.
"Dad started me a little earlier than most because he used to play," she said. "My first memory of playing was in the front yard, just having fun hanging with my dad. I just know he really loved it. He's always looking back at pictures of when he used to play."
Michael Bessette also can look at the photos he's taken this season for the 2016 Chatham High team, watching his daughter play center midfield on the rising program now headed up by coach Kaitlin Leyden.
Last Saturday in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3 quarterfinal round, Bessette scored two goals in leading Chatham past Roxbury, 3-1, on the road.
Noelle Bessette is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
Chatham (11-9-1) was knocked from the state tournament by West Morris in the semifinals, but the win over Roxbury validated the progress the Lady Cougars have made in the second year under Leyden.
"They put in so much work and it shows," Leyden said. "All our hard work showed up in that game. All those close losses we can put to rest now."
Bessette took a shot that was saved and put in the rebound to make it a 2-0 game and then helped clinch the match by converting a penalty stroke in the second half, boosting the lead to 3-1.
"I had Noelle in my head to take the penalty stroke right away," Leyden said. "I wanted someone with the right mindset. If she missed, she wouldn't be down on herself. If she makes a mistake, she just comes back more determined.
"Noelle plays the center midfield position on our team and she controls a lot of the game. When Noelle is on, the girls get a lot of energy from her and then they'll be on. it's very obvious that they look up to her."
Bessette, a 15-year-old junior, works on her game year-round and she has the advantage of an artificial turf surface and lights in her back yard, with a goal made by her father to practice on.
"Last winter, we redid our backyard and we had turf installed," she said. "Sometimes at night I'll go out there, turn on the lights and work on my stick skills and dodges. Over the summer, Abby (Walrond, Chatham goalie) would come over and we'd work on penalty strokes and one-on-ones,"
That's where she's put in the extra practice on her signature spin dodges, as well as aerial passes and reverse chips.
And she still gets to play against her father when he helps out with her club team on weekends.
"He plays when we scrimmage and he's a defender, so I get to go up against him," Noelle said. "He cheats by pushing me over or putting the stick between my legs to trip me. We have a lot of fun."
As much as she works on her individual skills, Bessette really appreciates the team aspect of the game.
"I love field hockey because it's a team sport, but it also let's you show your individual skills," she said. "You can be a star player out there, but you still have to work with other people. If I was doing this by myself, it definitely wouldn't be as much fun."
Bessette also keeps in shape by running both indoor and outdoor track for Chatham. Last winter, she was part of the 4x400-meter relay team that advanced to the state group meet. In the spring, the same relay team qualified for the Penn Relays.
"I like the competitive nature of track," Bessette said. "I really enjoy the 400-meter run. It also helps me with my field hockey."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.