Villa Maria Academy senior center midfielder and captain Gia Whalen, recently voted the AACA’s Most Valuable Player for field hockey, has been a driving force in the Hurricanes’ postseason, which includes a PIAA District 1 2A championship and a PIAA 2A state semifinal appearance.
The owner of a long and impressive field hockey resume, both at Villa Maria and elsewhere, the University of Iowa recruit scored 21 goals and dished out 21 assists for the Hurricanes this fall.
“Gia is the total package, the likes of which are few and far between — that’s what makes her so dangerous and special,” said Villa Maria field hockey head coach Katie Ordonio. “She can attack, distribute, dribble, defend — all with equal talent. What really sets Gia apart, though, is her work ethic, desire to improve and commitment to her team and goals.”
One of the highlights for Whalen this postseason was her game-winning goal in overtime against Hershey in the PIAA 2A state quarterfinal.
“Hershey was a very strong team and had been closely guarding me all game,” said Whalen. “In overtime, I believe it all came down to who wanted it more. After regulation time was over, the other team captains and I brought the team together to calm everyone down and to let them know that we were not going to lose that game.
“The minute the whistle blew in OT, I knew I would do everything in my power to not make that my last high school game. Hershey’s goalie played great and saved most of the shots being fired at her, but the minute the ball came to my stick I knew it was a chance to finish 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 squad that advanced to the PIAA 2A state quarterfinals. Her favorite memory of that season was defeating Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees Township (N.J.), whose squad was ranked second in the country at that time.
“Beating Eastern was a testament to our team, and to me it represented what Villa field hockey is all about – well coached, gritty, hustle and work ethic,” said Whalen.
Speaking of work ethic, even though Whalen scored 20 goals as a junior, she kept trying to improve her offensive game.
“One thing that I really worked on this year was to be an offensive threat,” said Whalen. “Before and after practice I would work on my hit (both forehand and reverse) and try to perfect my shot from the top of the circle where I normally take most of my shots from.”
Among her many honors she has received the past two years include being selected to the National Invitational All-Tournament First Team this year. Last year, she was selected to the NFHCA National Academic Squad, was a MAX Field Hockey All American (first team) and was picked for the NFHCA High School All-America Team (second team) and Pennsylvania High School Field Hockey All State Team (first team).
She also was a captain of the Villa Maria field hockey squad this fall, and provided her own special brand of leadership.
“Gia is the most modest and humble person I’ve ever known,” said Ordonio. “Not only did Gia lead our team to success with her hockey skills this season but did so while creating a great environment for our younger players with her leadership.”
When Whalen was asked how she viewed her leadership role, she replied, “To me, leaders need to have a vision of where they want to be in the end and why that destination is so important, not only to themselves, but for the entire team. This year was extremely important for our senior leadership to take 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 each game.
“Additionally, Villa has a rich history of Villa Maria field hockey and a style of hockey that we like to play. As captains, we needed to help ingrain that in our younger and less experienced players. With that as our goal, in addition to the field hockey part, we made sure that we did fun activities off the field so that when we stepped foot on the turf, our chemistry was unmatched.”
Whalen began playing field hockey in kindergarten at age 4. Her mother played field hockey (as Gina DeFazio) for Holy Name High School (now Berks Catholic) and Temple University (1993-1997). An All-American and an all-state selection in high school, Gina DeFazio (now Gina Whalen) was a three-year captain at Temple, made first team all-conference and Academic All-American.
Gia said, “My main field hockey mentor would be my mom. She was my first coach and shared her love of field hockey to me from a young age. We are always competitive with each other, which is fun for us.
“The most influential person to me throughout my whole field hockey career would be Jun Kentwell, my coach for my club team WC Eagles. Not only has Jun pushed me to be my very best both on and off the field, but she has taught me my fundamentals and skills and helped me grow my hockey IQ.
“Finally, my high school coach, Katie Ordonio, has been nothing but my biggest supporter and helped me to cope with the stress of high-level field hockey while also pushing me to be my best. She always wants the best for her players and creates an environment that is competitive but also like a family.”
Gia has enjoyed an extensive field hockey career outside of Villa Maria. Her favorite field hockey experience outside of Villa Maria was when she played on the U19 USA National Team against Canada last May at the Conshohocken Proving Grounds.
“This day was super special to me because it was close to home, which allowed all of my friends and family to come and watch me for the first time in this (USA National) uniform,” said Whalen.
Whalen, whose favorite academic course at Villa Maria is public speaking, is heading to the University of Iowa as an undecided major but is thinking of possibly going into communications.
“When I went out to visit the University of Iowa for the first time, I was blown away,” said Whalen. “Iowa has an amazing culture within each of the athletic departments, the university and its community. The Iowa field hockey staff and team instantaneously made me feel comfortable, secure and at home. I am super excited to be attending there next fall. I’m not entirely sure what path I want to follow yet, but I love sports and I believe maybe coaching, or being on TV as an announcer one day would be very fun and intriguing to pursue.”
Ordonio said, “We were so lucky that Gia chose to be a part of our program and will always be grateful for the passion and effort she poured into both every day as a Hurricane. I feel very lucky to have worked with her and know we will all be cheering her on as she plays at 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 pump-up song: Feel So Close by Calvin Harris.
Favorite team: University of Iowa Hawkeyes.
Favorite place to visit: Ocean City, N.J.
Favorite pre-game meal: Banana with peanut butter
Family members: parents Tom and Gina, brother Brady, dogs Zucca and Sullivan.
(To be selected as Main Line Athlete of the Week, a student-athlete must first be nominated by his or her school.)
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