One in an occasional series.
By Al Mattei
The 1998 NCAA field hockey season had some anomalies to it. One had to be the fact that no representative of either the Atlantic Coast Confernce or the Big Ten made the NCAA Division I championship game.
But what was even more amazing was the fact that the 1998 MVPs of these, the two most competitive Division I field hockey conferences, went to high school a scant five miles away from each other.
Penn State's Heather Gorlaski and Virginia's Lori Mastropietro have gotten to know each other quite well over the years. When Gorlaski's high school team at Langhorne Neshaminy (Pa.) took on Newtown Council Rock (Pa.) in the mid 1990s, fans from miles around would circle the two dates on the schedule when the teams played.
And, more often than not, the teams would not disappoint, as the two teams played some classic games against each other.
When Gorlaski and Mastropietro left school for their respective colleges, they did not meet until the 1997 NCAA Division I quarterfinal round. And, sure enough, they brought out the best in each other. Penn State got the first goal off Gorlaski's stick, and Virginia's Mastropietro retaliated off a corner.
There a little something which brings out the best in these two players whenever they faced each other. That little something, both players say, is respect.
"We got to know each other driving to camps together in high school," Gorlaski said. "We also were teammates in the Keystone State Games."
"She was nice enough to drive me down to the National Futures tournament, though I almost got her to the wrong exit," Mastropietro said. "But it goes to show you that even though we were on opposite teams, we had a lot in common."
Both players made their mark in college because of their versatility. Gorlaski has played midfield, fullback, sweeper, and second option on offensive corners after playing on the attack line in high school. Mastropietro, a point forward in high school, was a fullback and sweeper in college, and a midfielder in 1998 for Team USA.
Their versatilty led to excellence. Gorlaski was a three-time all-conference player, in 1996, 1997, and 1998. She was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1998.
Since the end of her senior season, she has been diligently working towards her communications degree and what she hopes is a television career covering women's sports, including field hockey.
Mastropietro, like Gorlaski a forward in college, was also a rearguard stalwart for both Virginia and, in 1998, for Team USA. She earned 18 caps for the United States in games leading up to, and including, the World Cup in Utrecht, Holland.
"She's not only a tremendous athlete, and a great defender, but she's just a great leader on our team," says Virginia head coach Missy Sanders. "She helps the younger players in getting them through some hard times. She's a great person, and she has a tremendous sense of humor."
Mastropietro has been a standout since the first day she walked onto the Virginia campus. Playing under the tutelage of Sanders, she has turned herself into an all-around player who has been known to build an attack every once in a while alongside a forward line featuring the fleet feet of Meredith Thorpe, Meredith Elwell, and Michelle and Lorraine Vizzuso.
"They call me The Big Train," Mastropietro says. "I played forward back in the day, so I didn't lose it: I had to learn some new things."
Like not being the single reason for her team's success. Her senior year in high school, she scored virtually all of her team's goals in the state playoffs. However, having the likes of the Vizzuso sisters, Elwell, and Thorpe on the attack line has allowed Mastropietro to become an All-American defender, as well as the MVP of the ACC.
The news that the Gorlaski and Mastropietro garnered 1998 MVP honors from the nation's two preeminent field hockey conferences garnered the same kind of responses from both players. Good feelings about their own accolade, coupled with adulation for the other.
"I thought that both of us winning was really neat," Gorlaski said.
"I'm excited for her," Mastropietro said. "She's always been a good rival, whether it was in high school or in college."