Luck of the Irish: Bent-Cole making instant impact

Camden Catholic freshman Olivia Bent-Cole racked up 16 goals in her first 15 varsity games from her midfield position. The 14-year-old was named to MAX Field Hockey’s All-American watch list prior to her first high school season. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

A high school coach’s ability to place a ninth grader into the varsity lineup is beneficial for a couple of reasons. 

For one, the student athlete obviously must be a pretty talented player. Secondly, the coach has the luxury of looking forward to utilizing that player’s skills for four years.

“Unless she leaves or we get rid of her,” Camden Catholic field hockey coach Mark Vittese said with a laugh.

Olivia Bent-Cole has been that kind of instant impact player for the Irish. The 14-year-old dynamo controls the midfield for Camden Catholic and has also tallied 16 goals in her first 15 high school games. Bent-Cole, a Philadelphia resident who was named to MAX Field Hockey’s All-American watch list in the preseason, is one of two promising freshmen on the Irish roster along with Ava Moore. 

Vittese knows talent when he sees it. The Camden Catholic coach had three daughters play at the University of Virginia and for the national team, including his oldest, Michelle Vittese, who played for the United States in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. 

Back in her own high school days, Michelle Vittese dazzled as a freshman with her speed and uncanny stick skills. 

“Well, that’s (Olivia),” Mark Vittese said. “(Controlling the ball with speed is) second nature (for her, too).”

Bent-Cole, who has visions of leading the Irish to the school’s first state championship since 1985, spoke with South Jersey Sports Weekly before a recent practice.

Olivia-Bent Cole, 14, has been playing field hockey since she was 7-years-old. She has visions of leading Camden Catholic to its first state title since 2015 and one day making a run at a spot on the United States national team, too. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: How long have you been playing field hockey?

Olivia Bent-Cole: Since I was 7. So I’ve been playing for a while.

SJSW: How did you get into it?

Bent-Cole: My sister (Avery Bent) played. She’s a lot older than me. When she was a teenager, like 14, I was 7. So when she went to camps I’d go along. I couldn’t play with them, but I’d go through all of the drills.

SJSW: Where did your sister play?

Bent-Cole: Her high school didn’t have field hockey, but she played at UVA (the University of Virginia) for two years.

SJSW: What do you like most about hockey?

Bent-Cole: I love the teammates and the love I get from my teammates. I know whatever I do or whatever honors I get, I know they helped me get there. So I’m happy here. I’ve been doing this for a while, so I want to accomplish a lot of things.

SJSW: You guys have done some things this year and have the chance to do some more. I remember the season opener, seeing you guys had a 1-0 lead on Eastern at halftime. Was that a good indicator of what was possible?

Bent-Cole: Yeah, I think that showed us what we are capable of, so we just can never give up. And I think we’ve come a long way even from that game.

SJSW: What are your expectations for the next few weeks?

Bent-Cole: I think we can win states if we try really hard. We need all of the support we can get from the whole team. But with this team, we don’t have any drama or anything, we all love each other. We’re all supportive of each other. 

SJSW: There’s a couple of freshmen starters this year with you and Ava. That’s got to be fun, knowing this is just the beginning.

Bent-Cole: Ava and I go back, too. The two of us have played up. We stayed back a year because of our age, but we play up at U-16 and U-19. … I started playing with her when I was 10 or 11.

SJSW: Do you have a field hockey role model?

Bent-Cole: Michelle Vittese or Melissa Gonzalez. They’ve always been up on my wall, back when I was 10, I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics and play.

SJSW: Where did you first see Michelle play? Olympics?

Bent-Cole: I didn’t see the Olympics at first, I saw the (national team) play in scrimmages and in games against other countries and I really loved her. She was my coach eventually (with Spirit of USA’s club team). That was really fun. 

SJSW: I remember watching Michelle when she played here. She was incredible. And her dad just compared you to her. 

Bent-Cole: I like it. But at the same time, I always want to be as good as she is, and have that attitude to stay in the game no matter what.

SJSW: Your coach talks about your speed. Is it two different things to be fast and fast with the ball?

Bent-Cole: Yes, because you can be fast without stick skills. And for forwards, that can get you a lot of goals. But if you’re in midfield, you need stick skills to get through people and manage your way up the field. So it’s two different things.

SJSW: So how did you develop that so quickly, just playing?

Bent-Cole: Yeah, playing for as long as I have and just doing the little drills, like pulls in the house, that helps. Indoors, if you have wood, you can (do a pull drill), even if you’re watching TV or something.

SJSW: Did you ever play other sports?

Bent-Cole: I did basketball and track. I’d still like to do track in high school.

SJSW: Did your parents play sports?

Bent-Cole: My mom (Dawn Bent) did track and my dad (Cecil Cole) did basketball. 

SJSW: It’s the fall of 2023. Where is Olivia Bent-Cole?

Bent-Cole: I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics in 2024, when I’m a freshman in college, and to get involved with the outdoor national team. I’m with the indoor (team) now, but I have to make the outdoor to (reach that goal).

Bent-Cole and the Irish celebrate a goal against Bishop Eustace earlier in the season. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: We’re going to play a pick-up field hockey game and you can pick anyone from South Jersey. You have first pick. Who are you taking?

Bent-Cole: Cait Cummins. I just love everything about her, I think we vibe so well on the field. She’s a senior.

SJSW: Who is the toughest player on the team?

Bent-Cole: That’s hard. Elena Leahy. She gets knocked down (and gets back up) all the time. 

SJSW: How about the smartest player on the team?

Bent-Cole: Gianna Miller.

SJSW: How about the funniest?

Bent-Cole: We have a lot. Probably Katie Walsh.

SJSW: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of field hockey?

Bent-Cole: Hanging out with friends. I like traveling through the city. Shopping, lots of shopping. And eating.

SJSW: Favorite school subject?

Bent-Cole: Science.

SJSW: Favorite teacher at Camden Catholic?

Bent-Cole: Mr. (Michael) McNulty. 

SJSW: Do you have a role model outside of hockey?

Bent-Cole: Probably Michelle Obama.

SJSW: That’s a really good one. Let’s say we’re at the state championship game, Camden Catholic vs. Oak Knoll, they’re announcing rosters and everyone gets their own walk-out song. What are you going with?

Bent-Cole: Ummm, I don’t know. Maybe “Yeah!” by Lil Jon and Usher. I’m not a big song person! 

(RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)