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Going for Gold

Kelsey Bing’s journey to the Olympics

Pooja Salhotra
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Kelsey Bing

St. John’s School graduate Kelsey Bing, goalkeeper for Team USA field hockey, is heading to the 2024 Olympics in Paris. (Photo: USA Field Hockey)

Fifteen years ago, Kelsey Bing decided – by the process of elimination – to play field hockey. Now, the 26-year-old athlete is bound for the summer 2024 Olympics in Paris with Team USA. 

Kelsey’s field hockey journey began when she was a seventh grader at St. John’s School, where students were required to play a sport each season. The options in the fall were volleyball, field hockey, and cross country. Kelsey ruled out volleyball because she preferred outdoor sports. And cross country just wasn’t the right fit. “I’m not really a long-distance girly,” Kelsey said. Field hockey seemed the most similar to soccer, a sport Kelsey played competitively, so she went for it.

About 30 girls were on the roster, but only 11 could play on the field at a time. In need of a goalkeeper, the coaches offered up a deal: if a player opted to play goalie for one half of the game, they were guaranteed to play in the field for the other half. 

Kelsey Bing

OLYMPICS BOUND Kelsey Bing, who plays goalkeeper for the US Women’s National field hockey team, won player of the match following the team’s opening game against India at the Olympic qualifiers in January. (Photo: USA Field Hockey/World Sport Pics)

“I did the math and was like, I’m literally going to get to play more if I’m a goalie, so I’m going to go ahead and sign up to be a goalie,” Kelsey recalled. 

That strategic choice epitomizes Kelsey’s competitive and driven personality, said Lindsay, Kelsey’s younger sister. From a young age, Lindsay recalls doing cartwheels on the soccer field during her games while Kelsey was analyzing plays and keeping track of statistics from the sidelines. 

“She was the most competitive kid ever,” Lindsay said. “There are photos of her when she’s little holding Olympic rings and saying she wants to be like Mia Hamm,” referring to the former American women’s soccer player, a two-time Olympic gold medalist. 

Kelsey said she enjoyed field hockey goalkeeping more than she expected and continued playing the position in eighth grade, the same year a club field hockey team called Texas Pride started up in Houston. Competitive by nature, Kelsey was eager to make the SJS varsity team when she got to high school. “That’s all my eyes were set on,” Kelsey said. So, she signed up for Texas Pride to pick up new skills. 

Reese Vogel, Kelsey Bing, Kaylie Mings, Caroline Hanan

CLIMBING THE RANKS Kelsey (second from left) and Texas Pride teammates (from left) Reese Vogel, Kaylie Mings, and Caroline Hanan went to Virginia Beach for the 2015 national challenge.

But before Kelsey even got to high school, she reached even greater heights in the field hockey world. The summer before high school, Kelsey attended a regional qualifier put on by USA Field Hockey, the national governing body for field hockey in the United States. Kelsey was selected to attend the national qualifier at Virginia Beach, where some professional women’s players made a stopover after qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. When Kelsey saw those players, she set her sights on the big leagues. 

“My eyeballs were wide, and my mouth was agape,” Kelsey said. “I was like, these are the coolest people in the world, and I want to be just like them.” 

Coaches identified Kelsey as one of three goalkeepers they wanted to join the Under 16 US Junior Women’s National Team, a feeder to the national team. 

“It was completely unexpected,” said Hague Bing, Kelsey’s mom, who, along with Kelsey’s younger sister Lindsay and dad Eric have been some of her biggest fans. “When they said she qualified for this and this, I had to go look on the website to see what it was because it was so much higher than I even had thought possible.” 

SJS Varsity field hockey team

The SJS Varsity field hockey team celebrates their SPC win. Pictured here are (bottom row, from left) Kelsey, Jennifer Trieschman, Lindsey McKone, Cameron Weiner; (second row, from left), Kate Copeland, Carson Copeland, Dani Loya, Elle Clonts, Reese Vogel, Mike Kleinstub; (third row, from left) Grace Wilson, Avery Morris, Izzy Chambers, Lizzy Ellison, Sarah Van Loh, Emily Pedrick, Sarah Grace Ritter, JaDa Johnson, Fred Fyhr; (fourth row, from left) Natalie Stone, Audrey Ledbetter, May McCabe, Brenda Mercado, Grace VanLoh; (back row) Terrie Warren, Craig Chambers, Isabel Windham, Virgil Campbell, Gordon Center, and John Vogel.

The accomplishment was all the more noteworthy considering that Kelsey had only played field hockey for two seasons and had little training compared to other players. At the time, many people didn’t even realize people were playing field hockey in Texas. The sport was popular on the East Coast but almost unheard of in the South. Even now, field hockey is not offered at most Houston area public schools. 

During high school, Kelsey juggled a challenging courseload alongside national and international field hockey trips. She played on the Varsity team for St. John’s and, during the winter season, she dropped soccer and went all-in on field hockey, playing with Texas Pride and helping them end their losing streak.

Tina Edmonds, head coach at Texas Pride, credits Kelsey with helping grow Texas Pride to one of the top-rated clubs in the country. “She helped us not lose all of our games, quite frankly,” Tina joked. “She got a lot of shots on her in the beginning. Our goalies now get no shots.” 

Kelsey had the unique ability to direct the field, telling players where to move and what to do from her clear vantage point in the goal, Tina said. Her spatial awareness helped her make strong and strategic decisions, even before she had developed all the technical skills she would need to play at the professional level. 

Kelsey Bing

Kelsey qualified for the national women’s field hockey team when she was a student at Stanford University. (Photo: USA Field Hockey/World Sport Pics)

Teammates say Kelsey was a natural leader on and off the field. Reese Vogel, who played with Kelsey at SJS and Texas Pride, recalled Kelsey going out of her way to help Reese prepare for early-morning away games. 

“I had trouble waking myself up for those early games. I was a slow riser,” Reese said. “Kelsey would wake up early and do warm-up stretches with me in the parking lot to make sure I was ready to play.” 

During her junior year of high school, Kelsey jumped from the international U-16 team to the U-21 team, skipping the U-18 age category altogether. That meant that as a 17-year-old, Kelsey was playing alongside college students. She spent much of high school traveling to play in international tournaments. She played in Amsterdam, Uruguay, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, and also sometimes traveled domestically to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for training. 

Lindsay Bing, Dempsey Ollison, Kelsey Bing, Bob Ollison, Hague Bing, Eric Bing

TEAM BING Kelsey’s family attends a Pro League match at UNC Chapel Hill; pictured (from left) are Lindsay Bing, grandmother Dempsey Ollison, Kelsey, grandfather Bob Ollison, Hague Bing and Eric Bing.

“All the hard work and sacrifice have been amazing,” Hague said. “It’s a lot, but she’s handled it so well.” 

Meanwhile, college coaches had already taken note of Kelsey’s goalkeeping abilities and sought to recruit her. After her sophomore year of high school, Kelsey committed to Stanford University, where she’d play on their field hockey team and study mechanical engineering. 

“It was one of the few places I went where I saw athletes who not only cared about the sport, but also cared about school,” Kelsey said. 

In college, Kelsey continued the dance between academics and field hockey. And that dance has continued at a higher level. After graduating from college in 2020, Kelsey pursued a master’s in engineering from Stanford and continued as goalkeeper for the professional women’s team, which she had qualified for as a junior in college. 

The combination of field hockey and engineering might strike some as unconventional, but Kelsey says the two are connected in surprising ways. When Kelsey is preparing for a big game, she often reviews hours of game tape to see how the opposing team plays and how she can adjust her strategy accordingly. It’s not engineering per se, but it uses the same set of analytical tools that she uses as an engineer. 

“Maybe I’m not going through and writing software, but I am thinking about things from an analytical perspective and organizing data,” Kelsey said. “That to me is a big overlap.” 

Kelsey Bing

Team USA celebrates after winning their opening match of the Olympic qualifiers. (Photo: USA Field Hockey/World Sport Pics)

In addition to playing professional field hockey, Kelsey works about 30 hours a week remotely as an engineer for Xwing, an aerospace company based in California. While Kelsey spends at least 20 hours of her week in practice and trainings with the team based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, she spends her afternoons working on autonomous flight systems. 

“It's very nice for me to have two separate things, so if one is not going well, I'll just go focus on the other one,” Kelsey said.

But by all measures, things seem to be going well in both arenas. Kelsey is loving her engineering job, and last month, she prepared for a trip to India for the 2024 Olympic qualifiers. It would be a return to the same spot where her team suffered a devastating loss in 2019, preventing them from qualifying for the 2020 summer Olympics. 

“The thought of going back there was stressful,” Kelsey said.

But in the semifinal match against Japan, Team USA clinched a 2-1 victory and a ticket to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. To top it off, Kelsey was named Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament. 

“There was a lot of screaming, hugging, and celebrating,” Kelsey said. “Now, thinking about that moment, it makes me smile.”  The following day, they played a match against Germany, losing 2-0 before catching a 7 a.m. flight the next morning to Goa, a beachy state along India’s coastline with the Arabian Sea. Much of the team caught a stomach bug, Kelsey said, so celebrations were quiet and low-key. The team spent a few days in Goa before heading to the eastern Indian cities of Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, for mini tournaments. 

Kelsey Bing

During her high school days, Kelsey makes an impressive save during a match against St. John’s rival, The Kinkaid School.  

Back in the U.S., Kelsey’s fans were ecstatic. 

“I requested time off work the second it happened,” Kelsey’s sister Lindsay said. Lindsay works as an investment banker in New York City, and she said that getting time off in the summer can be tricky. The 2024 Summer Olympics are scheduled for July 27-August 9 at Stade Yves-du-Manoir. 

Reese said her parents woke up in the middle of the night to watch the qualifying match in India. They immediately called the Bings to congratulate them on the win. 

“My whole family is going to Paris to cheer her on,” Reese said. “We still have to figure out our Kelsey Bing merch.” 

Kelsey isn’t sure what will come next in her career. For now, she’s taking it one game at a time. 

“It’s hard to make long-term decisions in an international sport because so many things are outside of your control whether it be an injury or a new hotshot coming through,” Kelsey said. “So for me, it’s just trying to enjoy the games I’ve been given and move from there.” 

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