By Van Arnold
University of Southern Mississippi
Acclaimed Australian field hockey standout Tristan Clemons officially retired from the sport he cherished in 2018. Or so he thought.
Clemons, Assistant Professor in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering at The University of Southern Mississippi, has returned to the game in a major way, preparing to make his debut for the USA Field Hockey Team in June at the Pan American Hockey 5’s World Cup Qualifier.
Clemons joined the USM faculty in the fall of 2021. His research focusses on the development of polymeric materials for drug delivery and regenerative medicine applications. Whether conducting research in his lab on the Hattiesburg campus or defending the goal for his U.S. teammates, Clemons approaches both with vigor.
“I am really excited about the opportunity and grateful for the support from Southern Miss so far to allow me to chase this dream,” said Clemons. “2023 is an exciting year for the Wolves (the U.S. Men’s Field Hockey Team) with the Hockey 5’s qualifying event in Jamaica in June, and then focus shifting toward the Pan American Games in Santiago later this year as our Olympic qualifying event.”
Clemons, originally from Bunbury, a small town in western Australia, had an extensive playing career with the Australian Men’s National team, representing his country on 51 occasions as their goalkeeper. He played in a several major tournaments around the world all the while combining his athletic talents with research ambitions that led to completion of his PhD and post-doctoral research.
In 2018 Clemons retired from hockey to pursue a fellowship opportunity in the United States within the School of Chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, before moving to Hattiesburg in 2021 as a faculty member at USM.
“To be honest, when I retired from the Kookaburras in 2018, I thought my playing days were behind me, but last year I was out in California and I had a meeting with the coach just to simply express my interest in helping the team out with some specialist goalkeeper coaching,” said Clemons.
He added, “as I am a dual citizen with the United States (Clemons’ dad grew up in Michigan) I became eligible to play for the U.S. after sitting out from international competition for a period of four years, and so coach Harendra Singh said that he didn’t want me to coach; he wanted me to play! It was that conversation that essentially planted the seed that maybe there was an opportunity here for me. Fast forward 12 months. and I am at a training camp in Chula Vista (California) with the team and now staring down my debut with the U.S. Team – really exciting.”
Clemons takes immense pleasure and satisfaction in serving as a goalkeeper for the U.S. squad.
“I love being a goalkeeper. You are the last line of defense, and the team often is relying on you to stand up and be at your best when your best is required in pressure situations,” said Clemons.
Clemons prides himself on being a role model for his research team, the Clemons Lab, and those he teaches at USM.
“I think it’s really important to demonstrate to our students that being a scientist isn’t all about wearing a white coat and tinkering away with chemicals,” he said. “That’s part of it for sure, and I love being a scientist and searching for solutions to diseases and injuries our community faces but I also love being an elite athlete and being that role model to our students that science and sport don’t have to be mutually exclusive from each other is something I am proud of.
He continued: “I think team sport teaches us so much with respect to discipline, resilience, leadership, and teamwork which are all skills which definitely enhance my abilities to be the best version of myself as a research scientist and teacher for our students in my role here at Southern Miss.”
Few colleges or universities below the Mason-Dixon Line offer field hockey programs. Clemons hopes to see that change sooner than later.
“I think field hockey is definitely coming to the southern United States, and I would love to be involved in growing the game here,” he said. “It has great popularity at the club and collegiate level across the rest of the U.S. and definitely around the world, so I am hopeful I can play a role in building that profile some more in Mississippi.”