By Al Mattei

Carey Fetting-Smith learned a lot about herself in the fall of 2002. A back injury had kept her out of action for a couple of weeks during the North Carolina field hockey season, making her hungry to take her place on the back line, where she has started just about every game since she stepped on campus.

But her education was to get a whole lot more robust. A double English and Spanish major (with a minor in the performing arts thrown in), Fetting-Smith chose to attend the University of Barcelona for a semester.

That would mean that the U.S. junior international would miss the University of North Carolina's spring field hockey sessions.

"Not only do I want to study abroad," UNC head coach Karen Shelton remembers Fetting-Smith saying, "I have arranged to play for a club team."

The answer was instantaneous.

"Good for you; go do it," said Shelton, herself a player of international caliber in the late 1970s and early 1980s, having played in the 1984 Olympics.

Carey Fetting-Smith's sophomore semester abroad was going to be much more than a textbook education, even more than a cultural exchange. Her hockey education took her to the Royal Polo Club of Barcelona's women's field hockey team.

"They trained three days of a week, and played on the weekends," she says. "I learned a lot."

Real Club de Polo's women's side was not able to match the success of the men's team, which took second place in the European Champions Cup that year. However, the experience was invaluable for Fetting-Smith in her personal development as a field hockey player.

That's because she got to play alongside an attacking midfielder from Argentina's national side.

"Luciana Aymar was over there at the time, and it was the coolest," Fetting-Smith says. "She definitely a role model for me, field hockey-wise. It was just an honor to be on the same hockey field."

Fetting-Smith was already a mainstay of the UNC program coming into the 2003 season, having started 36 of 41 matches. But this extra work in Spain made her into a complete player, a leader, and a team co-captain. She won the team's annual Leadership Award, handed out at the team banquet.

"It's an excellent opportunity for any young woman," Shelton says. "And not everyone has the energy and the interest in making it happen. It's great when you have kids who are well-rounded and worldly."

It was not the first trip to Spain for Fetting-Smith; she was the youngest member of a United States U-21 team that played a four-game series against the Spanish Junior World Cup team in Sabadell, a suburb of Barcelona.

"International experience is invaluable," Shelton says. "I'm proud of her for expanding her horizons, having the opportunity to study abroad, and to combine it with her hockey development."

Especially if it means being able to realize her enormous promise playing for Team USA as it attempts to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and 2008 Olympics.

"Hopefully, it will get to that point," Fetting-Smith says. "I may go back to Spain or to Argentina for a year after graduation. It's in the realm of possibilities."