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  The Digital Collegian - Published independently by students at Penn State
[ Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1999 ]

Former coaches' influence made Leuchte a Lion

Collegian Staff Writer

Like many of her teammates on the Penn State field hockey team, goalkeeper Heidi Leuchte spent many of her summers during her junior and senior years of high school at camps working on her game.

But unlike her teammates, her big game was not field hockey at the time.

"I used to play basketball all year round," said Leuchte, a redshirt freshman. "Sixth grade to senior year, I went to camps all summer. A lot of people on the (field hockey) team have gone through what I did through basketball."

Leuchte, a nursing major, had every intention of playing basketball in college, even though she was an all-state goalkeeper for Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H.

When Pinkerton Academy field hockey coach Denise Rioux asked Heidi if she wanted to play field hockey in college, Leuchte's answer was no.

"She (Rioux) asked me, and my first answer was, 'No, I'm going to play basketball. Are you crazy?' "

But after a suggestion from Rioux, Heidi decided to keep her options open.

Another Pinkerton employee working to persuade Heidi to play in college was Chris Blais, who played for the Lady Lions from 1991-94. Blais asked Heidi to let her know if she became interested in playing. But despite the persuasion to play field hockey, Heidi still was leaning toward basketball.

Until she visited Penn State.

Amy, her twin sister, was looking at Penn State for criminology. Heidi came along for the trip.

"Me, being as mature as I am, I'm in the back (of the campus tour) with my little sister," Leuchte said. "We're throwing grass at each other. I didn't care; I was just there for the free trip."

But at some point that day, Heidi fell in love with the school and expressed an interest in attending. She returned to Pinkerton and worked with Blais and Rioux to begin the recruiting process.

The three prepared a tape of Heidi's goalkeeping skills and sent it to Penn State and Northeastern. Soon after, she got a call from Lions assistant coach Lisa Bervinchak Love. Love expressed Penn State's interest in Heidi and worked to schedule a recruiting trip.

Northeastern wasn't quite as impressed with the tape, but offered Heidi the opportunity to try out as a walk-on. She passed and went on her recruiting trip to Happy Valley.

It was ironic that it was basketball, the sport that Heidi has loved for so long, that may have clinched the deal for Heidi while on the recruiting visit.

"I think it was when (former Nittany Lions basketball player) Danny Earl went out for the season," Leuchte said. "(Penn State field hockey coach) Char (Morett) was really upset by it, saying something like, 'I feel so bad for him; he's such a good kid.' I just liked the feeling that she knew more than he was just a basketball player.

"I don't want to come in here and just be a field hockey player. I want people to knew who I am as a person."

Heidi's athletic interest began as a child. Her parents signed her up for swimming lessons when she was two years old, as a way to direct her excessive energy into sports.

In addition to playing basketball and field hockey in high school, she also played tennis, although her skills weren't as developed as they were for field hockey.

"My (tennis) coach said it was an ugly match to watch," Leuchte said.

The summer before joining the Lions, Heidi participated in Super Camp, a summer clinic run by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) at Boston University. There, she prepared for the college level by working on her goalkeeping techniques.

Heidi came into Penn State's '98 season knowing she was going to redshirt behind then-starting goalkeeper Jamie Smith.

"I just learned and every day tried to get a little better," Leuchte said. "And then this summer, it hit me. I was like, 'I'm fighting for a starting position.' "

The goalkeeping race dominated the story behind the team's preseason. Heidi competed against Lions senior Julie Sposito and freshman Annie Zinkavich for the position, and the night before the opening game against Ohio, Morett informed Heidi she would be in goal.

Leuchte has made the most of her chances this season, recording six shutouts. She has a goals-against average of 0.64, as the Lions have beat powerhouses North Carolina and Old Dominion en route to a 10-2 record and No. 4 national ranking.

"I think it's hard coming in with Jamie playing last year," Michigan field hockey coach Marcia Pankratz said, "then stepping into her shoes. It's an awful lot of pressure on her. I think she's done a good job."

After the success Leuchte has had thus far, it's amusing to think that if not for the pleading of Denise Rioux, Heidi might not be playing field hockey.

"She's probably thanked me 50 times," Rioux said. "I'm thrilled for her. They're (Penn State) lucky to have her."

Despite the success, old habits die hard for Heidi.

"We're (the field hockey team) going to have an IM (basketball) team," she said. "We're so excited. We already have the starting lineup."

Maybe those years of basketball camp will pay off.

Field hockey

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Updated 1999-10-5  23:35:33   -4
Requested 2000-8-17  5:54:53   -4