When Caroline Thompson ’02 was a fourth grader at the Park School in Brookline, Mass., she made the decision to play field hockey instead of soccer in the fall.

Over 12 years later, that grammar school decision has turned into a full-time commitment at the college varsity level for Thompson, the captain of Yale’s field hockey team (7-9, 1-5 Ivy).

Although Thompson has taken a prominent role on the field, it is challenging to get her to talk about those accomplishments off the field.

When asked about her motivation for staying in field hockey, she defers to her supportive father or the enthusiasm of her teammates. If asked about her leadership as a captain, she will say she is not the only one leading the team.

Maybe that is how Thompson ’02 earned her teammates’ respect.

“In every aspect of the game she’s a good leader,” midfielder Brooke Worthington ’04 said. “She really cares about everyone on the team and wants everyone to play well.”

But in her freshman year, instead of imagining herself as captain, Thompson was imagining life without field hockey.

Side-lined for her entire freshman season with stress fractures in both legs, Thompson considered quitting, but was motivated to continue because of the support of her father, Neil Thompson ’63, who was side-lined for a season with mononucleosis while playing soccer at Yale.

“[My father] has been my motivation when I don’t have it,” said Thompson, whose father rises daily at 4:30 a.m. to exercise before leaving for work.

“C.T.,” as her teammates know her, uses the lessons of her experience to motivate others.

“As a freshman I didn’t get much playing time,” Worthington said. “[Thompson] took the time to make me feel like I could be an integral part of the team.”

And instead of touting her leadership, Thompson believes the team has no single leader.

“We all lead the team collectively,” Thompson said. “I don’t feel the need to step above my teammates.”

In a season where it might be hard to find motivation after the Bulldogs lost seven games by just one goal each, Thompson maintains an optimistic attitude.

“I don’t feel like I’m leaving on a bad note,” Thompson said. “[Team members] are satisfied with themselves. This is the first season I’ve really been 100 percent.”

With a scrappy, aggressive style of play on the field, Thompson has used her 5-foot-9-inch frame to bully her way to the team lead in scoring with eight goals. She is also third in scoring with 18 points. While Thompson’s statistics speak to her skills on the field, the source of Thompson’s aggressive style originates off the field.

“I’m an avid WWF and NASCAR fan,” Thompson said. “That’s where I get my motivation, from the Stone Cold stunners and the tombstone piledrivers. I’m a Southerner in a Northerner’s body.”

After choosing field hockey over soccer in fourth grade as her fall sport, Thompson devoted equal amounts of time to tennis and field hockey until a stress fracture in her back in her junior year at St. Paul’s boarding school forced her to abandon tennis.

Thompson led St. Paul’s to three New England Championships and four Independent School League Championships while she was on the field hockey team.

After red-shirting freshman year while she was injured, Thompson is now deciding whether she should return for one last year.

“It would be great to go one more time with Princeton and Harvard,” Thompson said. “I’m ready to play for another season, but I just don’t know.”

When asked about life without field hockey, Thompson’s eyes wandered to the window as she placed her chin on her propped arm.

“It’s exciting but scary to know I have so much free time ahead of me,” said Thompson, who has a senior thesis in history due in the spring. “I like drawing. Maybe I’ll go back to that.”