She jumps up and down three times, then touches the top of the cage with one hand and slaps her leg pads with the other. Within a second, she bursts out, flies to her left in full extension, her body parallel to the ground. She deftly rejects the shot and shifts her hips slightly in midair, bracing for impact.
It’s just another save for Krissy Nesburg ’04 — or Spike, that is.
In her flaming orange leg pads and 45 pounds of goalie equipment, Nesburg is both a comical and menacing presence at the post.
“She looks like a ninja sometimes the way she moves around in the goal,” Stephanie Dolmat-Connell ’04 said.
Seeing Nesburg suit up for the first time in 2000, teammate Erin Tennyson ’02 called the goalie “Spike,” after a dinosaur in the movie “The Land Before Time.” In the film, Spike is the green stegasaurus with an orange belly.
The name stuck.
“[It’s] Spike — I don’t know anyone who calls her Krissy,” Dolmat-Connell said.
Nesburg, the field hockey team’s starting goalkeeper, leads the Ivy League with 86 saves this season. But she treats each one with the same nonchalance.
“It is so badass when she makes the saves,” Dolmat-Connell said. “She makes those saves with authority.”
The lethal combination of outstanding range and kamikaze mentality has earned Nesburg the reputation of the stingiest goalie in the league.
Nesburg stands out as much on the field as in the statistics books. Fully suited, she balloons to three times her normal size, her small frame hidden by layers of padding. Yet she manages to be effortlessly agile. With her graceful stride and dancing crossovers, Nesburg is Martha Graham in a dinosaur costume.
It was her attraction to the cumbersome equipment in sixth grade that began Nesburg’s love for field hockey.
“The goalie looked so different from everyone else on the field and the pads were just cool,” she said. “I also couldn’t stand playing on grass. The turf felt great.”
Nesburg also played soccer and basketball in middle school but channeled her efforts into field hockey during high school. At Oak Park-River Forest High School, Nesburg fine-tuned her skills under the direction of head coach Barb Liles. Liles was named U.S. Field Hockey Developmental Coach of the Year in 2000.
“She is the best I have seen [in my 25-year tenure],” Liles said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had good goalies, but no one who has achieved as much as Krissy has.”
During her senior year at Oak Park, Nesburg led her team to the Illinois state championship, becoming her team’s most valuable player and garnering first-team All-State honors.
“It was a fantastic school with a decent program,” Nesburg said.
At Yale, Nesburg has started every game since her rookie year and compiled an impressive resume. As a freshman, Nesburg led the league with 159 saves.
“Without fail, Spike will do anything to make the save,” captain Rachel Burnes ’03 said.
In her sophomore year, the Bulldog goalie was second in the league with 129 saves, earning second-team All-America honors from the National Field Hockey Collegiate Association. Nesburg was also an honorable mention All-Ivy selection.
Nesburg credits her teammates for keeping her focused.
“They are my surrogate family,” Nesburg said. “I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else but Yale.”
Nesburg is currently a member of the under-23 U.S. National Team and represented the United States in the Pan American Indoor Tournament last spring.
“Spike has an incredible [ability] to learn and then soon after master any skill that is asked of her,” Burnes said.
Nesburg continues to rack up numbers and accolades, but her teammates admire her most for her steel-toe work ethic and the no-nonsense approach she brings to the field.
“[Spike] doesn’t put up with [anything]. She holds no superstitions. She has no favorites,” Burnes said.
Through the squad’s current 1-5 talespin, Nesburg has been an anchor, consistently making both the routine and spectacular plays.
“She won’t take anything less than 100 percent as acceptable, and I think that kind of attitude really pushes the team, or at least me, to play hard,” Dolmat-Connell said.
As Nesburg sat down with her legs sprawled on the table to relax, even out of uniform she looked ready to pounce. Even after a late-night paper session and a three-hour practice, her reflexes were crisp and her passion apparent.
“I believe in the motto: Go hard or go home,” Nesburg said.