By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

NORFOLK, Va. -- Ever since the National Collegiate Athletic Association took over the sanctioning of collegiate field hockey some 20 autumns ago, Old Dominion University's field hockey team has had "it."

The "it" is a combination of good athletes, mystique, tradition, coaching, and that extra bit of internal fight that gets a team into championship form.

In 2000, those qualities were in play at the Division I Final Four -- so much so, that Wake Forest head coach Jen Averill made a statement which may stand for all time as the definition of Monarchs hockey.

``Is there a 'rewind' button somewhere around here?'' Averill asked after her Demon Deacons were ravaged, 6-0, in the national semifinals. ``Somebody hit the fast-forward thing on us.''

You got the feeling that ODU's opponent in the 2000 final, the University of North Carolina, didn't stand a chance, especially against "it." In Old Dominion's 3-1 victory in the title game, the hosts were able to call on "it" pretty much any time they wanted. On the day, the "it" could be defined as the diminutive dervish named DiGiacomo.

Marina DiGiacomo, the affable senior from Mendoza, Argentina, had a hand in all three ODU goals in a virtuoso performance that deserved a four- or five-point afternoon. DiGiacomo pumped in a corner blast in the 11th minute, then set up Julie Miracle for her rebound goal in the 37th. Two more DiGiacomo shots went into the cage in the first half, but the corners were waved off because of lifted balls. It was clear that the Monarchs had clear dominion over their opponent on the day.

``I'm so proud of my kids,'' Monarchs coach Beth Anders said. ``They played with all their hearts, they played hard and they never quit.''

``You cannot ask for more,'' DiGiacomo said. ``This team might not have as much skill as the (1998) championship. But this team has just so much heart. We felt confidence because of that. This is just a dream come true.''

U.S. international Kristen McCann responded for the Tar Heels in the 45th minute to bring the game to within a goal, but hometown favorite Laura Steadman ended the scoring for Old Dominion in the 63rd when she put in a rebound of a shot from -- who else? -- DiGiacomo.

Tag, you're "it."

DiGiacomo's involvement in every attack thrust was no secret to the American field hockey community. She has tortured NCAA defenses for slightly more than 100 games, to the tune of 167 goals and 80 assists. These totals rank first in recorded collegiate hockey history, and her attacking skills have made her a target of every defense in every game.

North Carolina tried double-teaming her in the midfield, denying the ball. It didn't work as well as hoped.

``We tried to prevent her from getting the ball, and lots of times we had her coming back (in the midfield) to get it, which is good," said North Carolina head coach Karen Shelton. "I thought we did a good job on Marina today, but even when you stop her ... "

Shelton's voice trailed off in the room of journalists, as she attempted to put DiGiacomo's impact into plain English, like other Division I head coaches have tried for the last four seasons.

It was the ninth NCAA Division I title for Old Dominion in Anders' 19 seasons at the helm -- and perhaps her finest championship effort. It is a team that did not have the uncertainty over the off-season about whether a key player would be on an Olympic qualifying team or over in Sydney for the Games. It had just one scholastic All-American, but beat teams chock full of them.

``I wish I knew her secret,'' said Shelton, a former teammate of Anders' on the 1980 and 1984 Olympic teams. ``I am always amazed at the way she prepares her teams, and how well they play with such emotion and fire. And it's been consistent. I mean, I've been knocking heads with her for 20 years. . . . I want to come and spend two weeks here sometime so I can really see what she does.''

Perhaps Anders' secret can be found in one pre-tournament statement: "We're not focused on the final outcome: we're focused on playing this game with a lot of passion. The final score will take care of itself."

Rumors have been rampant in the American field hockey community about Anders' future in the sport she helped bring into the modern era with her 100-mph shooting.

But ODU's run through the 2000 NCAA tournament, with four superb victories, can be seen as a perfect swansong. Or, a sign that Anders and the Monarchs aren't through with their reign over American field hockey.

 UNC  0  1


ODU  1  2


First half -- 1. ODU, DiGiacomo (Yoder, van der Sommen), 11th minute

Second half -- 2. ODU, Miracle 37th; 3. UNC, McCann (Martin) 45th; 4. ODU, Steadman 63rd.

Shots -- UNC 7; ODU 18.

Saves -- UNC: Tran 15; ODU: Freeman 6.