Having been a big fish in a small pond, Katie Hoeg is now, well, a big fish in a HUGE lake.
Impressive as it is that tiny Mattituck is represented by Hoeg on the University of North Carolina women’s lacrosse team’s roster, what is even more impressive is that Hoeg is considered among the top players in the nation, plain and simple.
The 5-foot-11, redshirt senior had already entered this season as the school’s all-time leader in points (she currently has 311) and assists (currently 193). A two-time All-America first team pick, Hoeg and teammate Jamie Ortega were named co-winners of Inside Lacrosse’s 2020 National Player of the Year award. Hoeg has been ranked fourth among the nation’s college players for 2021 by Inside Lacrosse.
That’s mighty heady stuff, especially for a player coming out of little Mattituck. But it may have been just that background that provided Hoeg with what she needed to play — and star — for North Carolina (10-0), ranked No. 1 every week so far this season among Division I teams in both coaches and media polls.
“I think having my background, coming from a small town, honestly contributed majorly to the player that I am today because without having to go through those experiences, I don’t think I would be as versatile as I am today, and honestly, I don’t think I would be as good of a leader as I am today,” Hoeg said by phone from her off-campus residence in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think from a young age in Mattituck, I not only had to learn how to lead my teammates, but to lead myself and control what I can control.”
In high school, when Hoeg played for Mattituck/Greenport/Southold, she totaled a team record 517 points (306 goals, 211 assists) over six varsity seasons. She was named a US Lacrosse All-American and received a Suffolk Times Athlete of the Year award following her senior season in 2016.
Choosing to play for a national powerhouse like North Carolina took courage, too. She could have gone to a lesser school, a lesser program, with less pressure, but she chose the challenging route. Even for a player of Hoeg’s stature and talent, it was a transition going from high school standout to being another player on a college team of standouts.
“I definitely came to UNC to be part of an amazing program and a great team, not to be the points record-holder or All-American player or whatnot,” she said. “I knew that being around the best players would definitely make me better in the end.”
THE KATIE HOEG FILE
Class: Redshirt senior
2017: 7 goals, 9 assists, 16 points, 12 shots, 8 shots on goal, 19 games
2018: 39 goals, 50 assists, 89 points, 75 shots, 53 shots on goal, 21 games
2019: 31 goals, 73 assists, 104 points, 70 shots, 46 shots on goal, 21 games
2020: 22 goals, 30 assists, 52 points, 50 shots, 35 shots on goal, 7 games
2021: 19 goals, 31 assists, 50 points, 37 shots, 29 shots on goal, 10 games
Career: 118 goals, 193 assists, 311 points, 244 shots, 171 shots on goal, 78 games
Six-year varsity career: 306 goals, 211 assists, 517 points
Unlike in high school, when she played midfielder for the Tuckers, handling draws, North Carolina moved Hoeg to attack. She no longer takes draws and spends much of her time behind the cage, probing for openings in the opposing team’s defense.
Hoeg quickly learned the talent level at North Carolina was another world from what she had been used to.
“Everyone’s the star, you know, and they go to UNC and they got to learn how to fit in to the puzzle of how we can be the most successful,” she said. “I think being exposed to the great players at UNC forced me to work a little harder and it definitely was a humbling experience. It was like, ‘OK, maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was’ or maybe nothing’s given to you at this level.”
Hoeg went from coming off the bench as North Carolina’s top-scoring freshman to becoming a first team All-American as picked by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association as a sophomore starter, compiling 89 points and 50 assists, school records at the time.
As a junior, Hoeg broke her own single-season school record with 73 assists, becoming North Carolina’s all-time assists leader in the process. That season Hoeg received the honor she values most — being voted a team captain by her teammates. “Honestly,” she said, “being voted captain my junior year is the most important thing to me because to me it shows that my teammates trust me and they respect me.”
Before the pandemic cut short the 2020 season, Hoeg was tied for first in the nation with 52 points and second with 30 assists. She was on the 56-player final watch list for the 2020 Tewaaraton Award, presented to the most outstanding collegiate player.
In 10 games this season, Hoeg has produced 19 goals and 31 assists. That gives her 118 goals and 193 assists in 78 career games for North Carolina, winner of three straight Atlantic Coast Conference championships.
“It’s been everything I wanted and more,” Hoeg said of her North Carolina experience, which included playing against her sisters Riley and Mackenzie, who both play for Virginia. “When I came on my [college] visit, I saw how competitive the practices were. Now, being here for five years, it’s truly more than I ever could have hoped for.”
Hoeg, who is majoring in biology, plans to remain at North Carolina for another four years to attend dental school. She hasn’t ruled out the possibility of playing professionally, saying her love for the sport is as great as ever.
“There are definitely days when I’m like, ‘I’m old, and I’m still playing lacrosse,’ ” she said. “But I definitely love it, and I think that’s what keeps me motivated because when you have those good days, it’s truly some of the best days of my life. It’s so special and it’s hard to describe that type of freedom that you have when you’re doing something that you love.”
Small pond, big pond, it doesn’t matter. That feeling remains the same.