By Al Mattei


Ask the average American to name the three California universities that sponsor field hockey in NCAA Division I, and you might be able to get a few to name Cal-Berkeley and Stanford.

But for more than 20 years, even back in the days when field hockey was sanctioned by the AIAW and not the NCAA, the University of the Pacific has proudly held the banner of field hockey in the NorPac Conference, a sanctioning body whose colorful history is rivalled only by the American Basketball Association.

Pacific has been there since the very beginning, joining Cal, Stanford, San Jose State, Washington State, Cal State-Chico, and Cal-Davis in a multisport conference.

But by 1991, only Stanford, Cal, and Pacific remained. It took seven years until these three schools would be part of a large enough conference to gain an automatic qualifying (AQ) berth in the NCAA Tournament.

They joined with Southwest Missouri, Saint Louis, and Davis & Elkins of West Virginia to form the new NorPac, which was recognized as a single-sport conference in 1998. However, Davis & Elkins went through a couple of fruitless campaigns before dropping membership in 2000.

Radford, Appalachian State, and Davidson came to the rescue, allowing the NorPac not only to get its AQ, but to go to a two-division format with no required crossover games.

Pacific only needs to play Southwest Missouri, Cal, and Stanford twice to fulfill its requirements in NorPac play before a league championship tournament at season's end.

Linda MacDonald, the former U.S. international who has been coaching at Pacific as an assistant or head coach for 16 seasons, has seen it all in her tenure. And this makes her outlook for 2003 all the more extraordinary.

"In terms of talent and personnel," she explains, "this might be the best team we've ever had."

She has gotten much out of two freshmen this season, Vianney Campos (Chula Vista, Calif.) and Megan Haas (Hummelstown, Pa.). Goalkeepers Gina Sadler (Morgan Hill, Calif.) and Kim Myers (Chula Vista, Calif.) anchor the defense.

And they have been getting a lot of work, since the Tigers find themselves away from home most of the time, making East Coast road swings requiring them to play sometimes as many as four games with as little as a single day of rest spliced somewhere in between.

"We travel where we can go and get games," McDonald says. "It's hard, but we have to do that. Nobody else does it, but we have only three schools in California that have field hockey."

At the onset of their 2003 roadtrip, the Tigers beat a very good University of Delaware team that rose far into the Top 25 at mid-season. Days later, Pacific ran into a wall whilst playing the University of Maryland team.

Despite being outshot and outscored, the Pacific bench and its army of orange-clad supporters were always vocal and positive.

And once the roadtrip ended, it was back on the bus, heading for roads yet untraveled.