While most little girls grew up playing with dolls, Dusti Vanderwende was breeding prize-winning sheep.

Delaware's Dusti Vanderwende controls the ball during a game. (Delaware Sports Info.)
The University of Delaware field hockey player was raised on her parents' farm in Greenwood, Del., with chickens and about 600 dairy cows.

Vanderwende, a junior forward on the Blue Hen squad, joined the 4-H Club in third grade and wanted to show animals in the organization's competitions. Her parents thought it would be better to compete with sheep, which was more her size at that age. She began raising a breed of sheep called Suffolks, which is a popular meat-breed, and highly competitive on the show circuit.

A few years later, Vanderwende bought a black Lincoln Longwool, a wool-breed of sheep with long, silver locks of curly wool which were rare at the time.

"I think I got my first sheep when I was in first grade," said Vanderwende. "I started with two and then there were four and then six and then eight ... and now there are about 100 sheep."

In sixth grade, Vanderwende learned about dominant and recessive genes and how traits are passed down through generations. She was fascinated, and immediately applied the lesson to breeding sheep.

"I tried to breed black sheep to white sheep to get black lambs that were bigger than normal," said Vanderwende. "That's really what got me interested in genes - trying to improve the breed since Lincolns are a rare breed and have a limited gene pool."

Delaware junior forward Dusti Vanderwende. (Delaware Sports Info.)
Vanderwende has shown several of her sheep at state and county fairs over the years, and three years ago won Supreme Grand Champion Ewe (female sheep) at the Delaware State Fair.

"It was a really big deal because my sheep are wool-breed sheep, which in general, are smaller than meat-breed sheep," said Vanderwende. "They usually can't compete against the meat breeds because of their body composition. So, to win Supreme Grand Champion with a wool-breed was a huge honor."

With her background in agriculture and interest in genes, Vanderwende decided to major in animal science with a concentration in biotechnology. The concentration is designed for research, but also qualifies her veterinary school, although she is still debating her career path.

"I wanted to work in agriculture, and when I was looking at the field, it (animal science) was what interested me the most and what I understood the most," said Vanderwende. "It just seemed natural."

Field hockey also came naturally to Vanderwende, whose mother, Deborah, is the field hockey coach at Woodbridge High School in Delaware.

"My mom used to play hockey with me when I was really young, and she was my coach in high school," said Vanderwende. "I love the competition and teamwork, and especially at the collegiate level, there's such a bond between the players on the team that it's really enjoyable."

Vanderwende has also shared her love of animals and agriculture with her teammates, most of which have never experienced life on a farm.

"One of my roommates, Katie Evans, has made it a tradition to go home every spring break and play with the lambs," said Vanderwende. "They are usually born in February, so by spring break, they are really cute and running around. She had never been to a farm before in her life - she's a fashion design major from Newtown, Pa."

Delaware wrapped up its season with a 3-0 victory against LaSalle on Oct. 30. The Blue Hens finished the year with an 8-11 record.