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  The Digital Collegian - Published independently by students at Penn State
[ Monday, Nov. 22, 1999 ]

Year that was for field hockey

Collegian Staff Writer

The Penn State field hockey team ended its season in the first round of the NCAA Championships last week, but the year still could be considered a successful campaign.

"I knew the expectations for the team weren't that high this year," Penn State freshman forward Nora Graber said, "and we exceeded those expectations."

The Lady Lions (17-5, 8-2 Big Ten) were expected by many to struggle this season after losing six starters to graduation last year.

Gone was Heather Gorlaski, the 1998 Big Ten Player of the Year. Gone was Dawn Lammey, Penn State's all-time assists leader. Gone, too, were starters Angie Haas, Sonje Volla and Kym McKinney.

Penn State would also have a gaping hole at goalkeeper, losing three-year starter Jamie Smith to graduation. Waiting to step into her role in the cage were three players with little collegiate experience.

"My greatest amount of patience is going to show in the goalkeeping position, because we have total inexperience there," Penn State field hockey coach Char Morett said in August at Fall Sports Media Day.

The day before the Lions' season-opening match against Ohio, Morett elected to start redshirt freshman goalkeeper Heidi Leuchte. Morett's decision appeared to pay off in her team's second game of the season — a 1-0 victory against non-conference rival North Carolina.

The win was the Lions' first against the Tar Heels since Sept. 26, 1993.

The game also gave the Lions an idea of what they were capable of.

"We really didn't know what we were all about before that game," Leuchte said.

A week later, Penn State traveled to Norfolk, Va., for a contest against Old Dominion, the defending-national champion. The Lions scored four second-half goals that day, and Penn State rolled to a 5-1 victory. It was the second straight year the Lions upset the Lady Monarchs.

"That was the high point to our season," Lions junior back Mandy Robinson said. "We seem to do well against Old Dominion."

Three days later, Penn State was awarded with the No. 1 ranking in the initial STX/NFHCA Div. I National Coaches Poll, receiving 26 of the 28 first-place votes. A day later, it made its first defense of the top ranking, shutting out West Chester, 5-0.

If the young Penn State team was on cloud nine at that point, it was knocked back down to earth the next weekend when visiting Connecticut came to town and walked away with a stunning 1-0 victory.

The loss was the first for the Lions at Bigler Athletic Complex since Oct. 4, 1996, snapping Penn State's 25-game home-win streak.

The Lions' conference schedule began a week later, and Penn State lost again, being shut out 2-0 in Iowa at the hands of the Hawkeyes.

After losing two games in the span of nine days, the Lions could have rolled over and given in, succumbing to the pressure of increased expectations.

Instead, the Lions won 10 of their next 11 games, including a 2-1 win at home against Michigan on Oct. 3. Junior back Traci Anselmo scored the winning goal and Leuchte made a game-saving stop on a breakaway by Wolverines midfielder Courtney Reid.

Penn State finished in second place in the Big Ten standings, securing a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

But it didn't matter in the end as the Lions' hopes for a fifth Big Ten Tournament title vanished on a penalty stroke in the second overtime of the their next game. Penn State lost 2-1 in a semifinal match against eventual-Big Ten Tournament winner and national-runner-up Michigan.

Despite the loss, Penn State was invited to the NCAA Championships as an at-large team. For the second time this season, it would face North Carolina, this time in the first round of the tournament.

North Carolina scored on a penalty stroke in the first half against the Lions. As it turned out, Tar Heels goalkeeper Amy Tran provided enough defense to make that one goal stand up as her team avenged its early-season loss to the Lions, winning 1-0 to end Penn State's season.

"It's terrible, but I always remember the one that we lost," Larson said. "The last game."

For Larson, it's the last game in more ways than one as her collegiate career is coming to an end. She next will go to England to compete with the U. S. National Team.

"While field hockey's not done," Larson said, "Penn State's done and that's the worst part."

The season saw many special events. The Bigler winning streak came to an end, and Morett got her 250th career victory after three years at Boston College and 13 years at Penn State. Larson received Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year honors with a conference-high 57 points.

Answering the questions that presented themselves before the season, the Lions goalkeeping was a major positive. Leuchte posted a 0.89 goals-against average and secured a conference-high eight shutouts.

Now comes the offseason, and a start to the preparation for the 2000 campaign.

"I think we're all really excited," Robinson said. "We're all talking about working really hard in the offseason."

Field hockey

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Updated 1999-11-22  2:42:26   -4
Requested 2000-8-17  5:52:53   -4