YOUR FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED (WE HOPE)
By Al Mattei
Over the nine years of this website, we get asked the same sorts of questions over and over again, whether it is by people I have met in real life, or on-line. To avoid having to repeat myself in 30-second soundbites, here are some of the frequently-asked questions (FAQs) -- and corresponding answers -- that we tend to get:
Q: How did you get interested in field hockey?
A: We attended a private Episcopal school, Burlington St. Mary's Hall (N.J.), which was the dominant national powerhouse in field hockey in the early part of this century. It is reputed that USFHA national-team selectors would come to Blue-White Day ceremonies (later changed to Color Day) to scout athletic talent for traveling teams, like the 1923 English Tour team.
Q: Have you ever played the game before?
A: In gym class, we used the dusty sticks and plastic balls with seams that were probably used in the late 1950s. It was a hard sport to learn, especially with the ruts, the long toes, and my tall frame. Our boys' gym teacher told us that field hockey was played all over the world by males.
Q: When did you start getting really interested in the game?
A: I wrote a story once about indoor field hockey in my former life as a daily newspaper reporter. Frankly, I was hooked after about 30 minutes. Then, I was asked to cover a couple of games in 1990 and 1991 when the personnel was spread thin in the sports department. Those games just happened to be the 1990 Mercer County Tournament championship and the 1991 Prep "A" Final, which were a pair of the best field hockey games I had ever seen.
Q: And then what?
A: In 1992, when I was in graduate school, I did a favor and came down from Syracuse, N.J. to cover the quarterfinal round of the Mercer County Tournament. In those days, the quarterfinal was Super Saturday: four consecutive games from noon to 8 p.m. It was awesome: three games went into overtime, one into double overtime. Never had I seen so much left out on the field in one day.
Q: Why did you leave the newspaper business?
A: I had many issues with the brass -- issues which came to the fore in 2006 when the paper's full-time staff was absorbed into another's, and the entire part-time staff was let go. Further, as a daily writer, I felt as though the daily grind was not going to allow me to gain a perspective on which I was writing.
Q: How did you grow the site?
A: The idea was to gradually build the coverage area. At the start, I had intimate hockey expertise in a wide area of the East, from, generally, northern New Jersey through central Virginia. I expanded a little bit year by year: Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina, and Tennessee are being added to scholastic coverage in the fall of 1999; Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma in 2000; Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado in 2001; the Far West in 2002; and the non-voting U.S. territories (except for the District of Columbia, which was there in the start) in 2003, when a story about Puerto Rico was published.
Q: Why don't you have a scouting report of your top 100 players anymore?
A: I got a lot more attention for the national top 10 the very first week of the quick-and-dirty Top 10 than I had in three years of the top players' list. It's taken on a life of its own, and since more of the elite field hockey teams are beginning to play each other like in basketball, it's easier than I thought it would be.
Q: What makes a good field hockey player?
A: I use several notions, but judiciously. When it comes to quickness, for example, I look for not just straight-line speed, but the ability to "scoot" 10 or 12 yards in a jiffy to get to that open space. I scout for intangibles like courage, determination, playing well through adversity. Sort of like Grant Long rather than Julius Erving.
Q: Why do you sometimes focus on so-called "minority" issues with respect to field hockey?
A: As a straight Puerto Rican male with roots in the Deep South, I think I am one with the disposition of a crusader. I have always felt that more city people, westerners, people of color, and Sun Belt residents should be involved in the sport. Field hockey has broken down class barriers in the past 20 years: farm and steel towns have won as many field hockey championships as moneyed suburbs. There are, however, many more social hurdles the game of field hockey needs to clear.
Q: I hardly recognize any of the schools you write about -- and I think I attend one of them. What's going on?
I use National Federation style to describe the name of a school. That is, the town's name first, the name of the school if different, then the state or commonwealth in parentheses. The lone exceptions are if the city is part of the school name, such as The Hun School of Princeton (N.J.). We will shorten school names for some colloquialisms, such as Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) instead of Voorhees Eastern Camden County Junior-Senior (N.J.). We won't use "Solehi" for Central Valley Southern Lehigh (Pa.), or "Becahi" for Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic. But the prep school simply known as "Choate" is Wallingford Choate Rosemary Hall (Conn.)
Q: Who are your favorite players to watch?
A: That's hard to say. I do get enjoyment watching players in the moment, but I actually get more satisfaction watching players over time, watching them grow from giggly girls to strong, powerful women with skills.
Q: So, you don't have a favorite?
A: I have had the most tremendous respect for a handful of athletes, for varying reasons. I watched Corry Freeman, a sweeper at Rutgers, turn herself from a pretty good high-school midfielder into a reliable fullback over a four-year career there. And, still she would take time after games to let me know how she was doing.
Another player I really respected for ability was Lindsey Gehris, who is now at Penn State. I once saw her singlehandedly destroy a good South Jersey team as a sophomore at Shawnee, and as a senior nearly take down one of the best teams in the country in her final interscholastic playoff game.
Antoinette Lucas of Team USA has never failed to amaze me when I have seen her either at "A" camp or at the USFHA Summer League in 1998. She's fit, fast, and extremely strong: the best block-tackler I have ever seen.
To me the best goalkeeper I have ever seen was Gia Fruscione of Princeton University. In high school, I saw her play behind teams that were outshot sometimes by a 1:2 ratio, and still win because of her ability. During a daylong tryout for the 1998 USFHA Summer League, she was at the height of her powers, making stops which were not just unbelievable, but made Dominik Hasek look like a pound of Swiss cheese.
I have also enjoyed watching the Kelly and Cosse sisters: Meghan Kelly and Jill Cosse attended Trenton (N.J.) State College while Kathleen Kelly and Pam Cosse attended Princeton University. Man, could they play!
At the college level, I have never seen a better front line than Maryland in the late 1990s with Keli Smith, Carla Tagliente, and Dina Rizzo. Watching them warm up in front of an empty cage before games was like seeing Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven together at the same time.
Q: There are times when you have given superlatives to your players. How absolute are they?
A: I am from the old school of journalism: you are there to assess a situation with historical merit, not one which is there for the moment. For example, I was weaned off the word "great" when I was working at my old newspaper. The reason: if a field hockey goal was "great," then what adjective befits, say, Winston Churchill?
So, there are several superlatives I use, and they qualify the players into categories rather than one "best ever" player.
Q: Such as?
The hardest hitters I ever saw in high school were the following: Shannon Taylor from Midlothian James River (Va.), Jackie Hampton from Hightstown (N.J.), Carla Ostrowski from Hamilton (N.J.) West, Tiffany Fodera from Allentown (N.J.), Lori Mastropietro of Newtown Council Rock (Pa.), Meredith Weinstein from Princeton Junction West Windsor-Plainsboro (N.J.), Maureen Scannapieco of The Hun School of Princeton (N.J.), and Brooke Bergmann of Levittown Pennsbury (Pa.).
Of these, Scannapieco's hard hit sounded differently from all the rest. Instead of a thwack or clunk, there was only a small click when her stick pummelled the ball downfield. In other words, she hit the thing solid every time.
There are only two players I have ever seen which remind me of a Brazilian men's soccer player when in possession of the ball: Gina Carr of Milford Delaware Valley (Pa.) and Becky Schatzkin of Bethesda-Chevy Chase (Md.).
Only three players have ever made me flinch with a palpable sense of fear and expectation in the offensive end of the field: Andschana Mendes of Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.), Lorraine Vizzuso of North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), and Katie Nicholson of Allentown (N.J.).
Of these, only Nicholson makes me remember the brilliant scoring chances that she does not convert as much as the ones she does.
Q: So, who is America's next best hope in field hockey?
A: There are a few I am keeping my eye on. I thought there was a cohort including Kelly Darling (Princeton University), Carey Fetting-Smith (North Carolina), Lori Hillman (Michigan), Ashleigh Haas (Virginia), Amy Stopford (Duke), and Kellie Kulina (Lock Haven) which could fundamentally change the way the game in this country. But look carefully at the 2005 U-21 national team, including the likes of Katie O'Donnell, Michelle Kasold, Katelyn Falgowski, and Lauren Crandall. This could be your Olympic team someday.
Q: You must have some favorite teams.
A: I have never felt cheated watching a Trenton State College field hockey game, since they show me something new every time. I have always respected the job they have done in coaching and playing.
But if you want to know the truth, I like those teams which have overcome the odds to find success. I will always enjoy telling the story of Burlington Township (N.J.) and their 1996 state tournament team. Two years before, the team had been a lowly 1-14-1, but won the Burlington Freedom Division two years afterwards, thanks to the tremendous coaching efforts of JoAnn Rell.
I also tell the story about how, in 1995, Morrisville (Pa.) broke a decade-long losing streak, celebrated the win in front of a television camera, then sang a "Happy Birthday" to Mikey Appleget, the team's goalkeeper and inspirational figure.
Q: You must have other favorite games.
A: Definitely! I remember the group hug that members of Newtown Council Rock (Pa.) engaged in after winning a share of the 1994 state title game with Emmaus -- a tie which was not created until 0.7 seconds remained in regulation.
I can see now the picture of Meghan Smith of The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School, after her team won the 1991 Prep "A" final. Nursing a swelling eye and perhaps a concussion, she hugged the championship trophy, shivering and smiling at the same time, knowing the effort her teammates put out for the overtime win.
I will always remember the way that Bethesda-Chevy Chase (Md.) always seemed to put it all together for state championship games, finding unusual heroines in final after final as they racked up nine straight championships. While headlines were being written about fine players like Katie Beach and Sarah Wright, names like Heather Sperling, Jenny Portillo, and Katie Lee were making their presences known in times of greatest pressure and effort.
But above all, I picture in my mind the 1997 Group II final in New Jersey, watching Allentown (N.J.) and North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.) giving everything they had -- and more. Before 1997, Allentown had won its last division title in 1982. But in '97, this team of such pride, character, and ability made it to the state championship game and played a triple-overtime draw in perhaps the greatest game I have ever seen.
I saw Wessex's Kristin Gavin play more than an hour with a broken hand, I watched Allentown's Katie Nicholson's eye get more and more swollen by the minute after taking a ball off her face in pregame warmups, and winced at Dana Woods' struggle with her unpredictable leg and hip muscles.
Moreover, I remember the two sets of passionate and knowledgable sets of fans in the Lions Stadium stands, applauding the players upon the sounding of the final whistle. The courage and athleticism of this contest -- on both sides -- cannot ever be overemphasized.
And it's too bad that game was never broadcast on local cable because the contest was too long for the two-hour window.