By Al Mattei


Princeton University was going to get a top-flight field hockey goalkeeper in the fall of 1996. Meg DeJong heard the whispers about how her field hockey career was going to be over before it had a chance to begin.

DeJong has a little trouble hearing whispers. A fever during her childhood stole more than half her hearing, and she had to focus in order to hear her professors during classes at Princeton University, as well to carry on an ordinary conversation.

DeJong also has a little trouble hearing the theoretical whispers, the ones which declared that she would play little more than the 221 minutes she has played in goal her first three years on varsity.

But when Olympic-caliber goalkeeper Gia Fruscione made an unfortunate preseason slide tackle on a patch of dry artificial turf, shattering her lower leg, DeJong suddenly became the starter in 1998.

"She is certainly an inspiration, and I think she's a living example of, 'Coach, I'm ready,' " says Princeton head coach Beth Bozman. "She's always there for the team. If I told her that I thought the team would be better without her in the lineup, she would graciously step aside. That fosters team unity."

DeJong never stepped aside for anyone. She posted 10 shutouts in the 1998 season, a single-season total greater than any Princeton netminder in the varsity history of the sport. Helping to make the experience even more special was the coaching and teaching from the Princeton staff and from Fruscione, one of the best ever to come through the American scholastic system.

"Since I got here, the goalies always roomed together," DeJong said. "I've been with Gia every moment before every game, and she prepares for the game the same way I do."

Like her roommate and friend Fruscione, Meg DeJong knows exactly how and when to focus ... and, as importantly, how and when to de-focus. For example, she spent part of the day before one of the biggest games of her life -- the NCAA Division I semifinal game against Connecticut -- keeping her fingers busy doing a little macrame.

"I made myself a necklace for good luck; it's made of hemp," she said, tugging at the cords interlacing orange and white beads. "It was something to keep my mind off the game."

DeJong does just about anything -- except her coursework -- to prepare for a regular-season game. Imagine her routine before the Final Four.

"This is all very big, this being my senior year," she says. "And being back in the Final Four three straight years, it's very big."

A lot of DeJong's success could also be attributed to the Tigers' superb defense -- Brooke Doherty, Anne Marie Reich, Adrienne Breslin, and Christine Hunsicker. The senior quartet was the citadel around the scoring circle, allowing few good shots on the Princeton goal cage.

"They're not playing to protect Meg; she can take care of the job on her own," Bozman says. "I think it speaks to their experience and how well they are playing back there."

Tiger fullbacks have been historically strong throughout Bozman's tenure as head coach. This not only made DeJong's job easier, but it made her focus on every opposing scoring chance that gets through.

"We wouldn't let them take shots, actually," said DeJong after Princeton's national semifinal victory over Connecticut. "The only way they can get in is to go around and to hit it in. They couldn't carry the ball in and shoot it."

DeJong's heroics have helped continue Bozman's goalkeeping relationship with the state of New Jersey. Starting with Liz Hill (Lawrence) in the early 1990s, through Fruscione (Princeton Township) and DeJong (Tinton Falls), Princeton has reflected the depth of the state's goalkeeping talent.

But there's an object lesson that DeJong and the Tigers have been learning about overcoming obstacles, real and perceived, which has perched them on a level few other teams have achieved in the first quarter-century of Ivy women's athletics. And though Princeton was unable to convert any of its three Final Four chances into championships, DeJong's personal achievement should not be overlooked.