Like mom, Eisenberg to play college field hockey, but at rival school

Elana Eisenberg
Courtesy of Elana Eisenberg
Elana Eisenberg, a starter on the Los Altos High field hockey team since her freshman year, is headed to Cal in the fall.

Perhaps the first sign Elana Eisenberg was destined to attend UC Berkeley came in the form of the Halloween costume she wore a decade ago.

Growing up in what she described as “a house divided” – her dad attended Cal and her mom went to Stanford – Eisenberg and her sister dressed up as the schools’ respective mascots that year.

“I have pictures from when I was 8 and went as Oski (the Bear),” the Los Altos High senior said, “and my sister was the Stanford Tree.”

Eisenberg will soon be wearing a jersey with “California” printed on the front. In October, she accepted a scholarship offer to play field hockey for the Golden Bears.

“It’s a great fit for me,” said Eisenberg, an A student who also considered Ivy League schools. “I’m excited for the transition.”

Not that she expects it to be easy – Cal is an NCAA Division I program.

“There’s definitely going to be a learning curve,” Eisenberg said, “but I’m excited about adjusting to that. This is something I’ve been working toward for the last four or five years.”

The pandemic limited that work for nearly a year – since last summer high school and club practices were “on and off,” she said, and always required social distancing – but that’s changed in recent months due to the loosening of restrictions. The Eagles have been holding regular practices since February and their season starts this week, some seven months later than originally scheduled.

“I can’t tell you how happy I was to play again on the field,” Eisenberg said soon after Los Altos began scrimmaging.

Savoring senior season

While many weren’t sure if field hockey would happen this school year, Eisenberg said she was “cautiously optimistic” when February rolled around. The season will be shorter than normal, only six weeks, but Eisenberg will take it.

“We were really excited about this season,” she said of the Eagles, who reached the Central Coast Section semifinals a season ago. “My class has so many great players on the team who are seniors.”

Eisenberg is among 11 seniors on the squad, and the only one who has committed to play beyond high school. Her experience playing on a club team (San Jose Fly) and being part of USA Field Hockey’s Futures Program helped the Los Altos resident get noticed by colleges. When Eisenberg reached the program’s top level for the Northern California region as a freshman, she was coached by the Cal staff.

“It was cool to work with them for a few years,” she said. “I got to understand their coaching style and got to know them.”

Head coach Shellie Onstead and her assistants got to know Eisenberg as well and apparently liked what they saw; Cal began recruiting her in the fall of 2019.

Sealing the deal

“I went on my official visit in October of my junior year,” said Eisenberg, who plans to study economics. “I spent the day with the team, had meals with them and stayed in the dorm overnight. At lunch the next day with the coaches, I committed. I sealed the deal over a grilled cheese.”

She won’t be the first member of her family to play college field hockey. Eisenberg’s mom, Melissa, played for rival Stanford.

Mom was a defender; daughter is a midfielder/forward. Eisenberg started up front for the Eagles her freshman year, played mostly in the midfield her sophomore season and served as the center midfielder as a junior.

“There’s a very high chance I’ll be back at forward (at Cal),” she said. “I’m excited by that.”

Eisenberg took up field hockey in sixth grade when she joined the Fly. One of her coaches there, Mary Donahue, is also Los Altos’ head coach. Eisenberg said Donahue has been integral to her development in the sport and that the two “have such a great relationship.”

Donahue described Eisenberg as “an extremely talented and smart hockey player” who is “blessed with amazing speed” and “works relentlessly at practice.” The coach said Eisenberg “will shine at the collegiate level.”

Eisenberg has done some coaching herself, working with club players in grades 4-6 last year. She called it “a real full-circle moment for me.”

When she’s not immersed in field hockey or schoolwork, Eisenberg has several other interests to keep her busy. She’s the sports editor for the school newspaper, does community service work and also plays piano and guitar.

Eisenberg tried other sports growing up, including softball and basketball, but nothing compared to field hockey.

“Once I got it, I fell in love,” she said. “I discovered a true passion for it. I really found my thing in field hockey, and I’m grateful for that.”

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