AN APPRECIATION

Beth Beglin, head coach, University of Iowa

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

When Beth Beglin laid out her choices to do a graduate assistantship in 1987, she could have gone anywhere.

After all, what had she to prove to any potential employer? She was a multitalented athlete from West Chester (Pa.) University and was just winding down her career for the U.S. national team, having not only won an Olympic bronze medal in 1984, but having gone through the entire business of the 1980 boycott and the four years of buildup towards Los Angeles.

But Beth Beglin chose Iowa.

The University of Iowa was, and still is, an enigma in American field hockey. When the program started in the 80s, it was pretty much thought of as a counterweight for an increase in spending for men's sports.

As long as football and Dr. Tom Davis managed to win games and generate revenue, said the pundits, the field hockey program's existence would be a buffer against Title IX charges.

But Beth Beglin turned field hockey at Iowa from a curiosity into a powerhouse. Her first season as head coach, 1988, Iowa went 19-6 and went to the NCAA championship game, losing to Old Dominion.

With a changed cast in 1992, Iowa again went to the finals, only to lose to Old Dominion and her former Olympic teammate Beth Anders.

The Hawkeyes had success in 1999, going 19-3 and making it to another Final Four, only to lose to Maryland in the semifinals in double overtime.

Beglin should have had a great 2000 season. A good chunk of the 1999 team was to return and she had a tremendous goalkeeping prospect from Kentucky coming in.

But, as she said in a statement released by the university, her heart was no longer in the game, even though she was just one win short of 200 in her college coaching career.

"I just knew it was time to go," Beglin said. "When July 1 rolled around and it was time to start recruiting, I had a real hard time wanting to do it. I've been here for 14 years and in coaching for almost 20 -- field hockey has been a passion of mine all my life - but at this time I just didn't feel I had the energy to do the type of job I expect of myself and give the type of effort that I demand from my student-athletes and staff.

"I have always said I would never be mediocre at anything and if I ever got to the point where I was going to give a mediocre effort, I would leave before it happened. I just didn't have the energy to go through the year, and I thought this would be the most fair thing to do. It's not easy to succeed here, because we're not in a hotbed of field hockey, and I didn't think I could give the effort that would continue this program as a national powerhouse."

Perhaps the information in that last clause was a little bit too much for her to bear. Despite the presence of not only the Iowa field hockey team, but the aggressive women's sports presence in all of the Lady Hawkeye programs, there are still no varsity field hockey programs in the state of Iowa.

It might be said that this is a failure that can be laid at a coach's feet. It is, however, unfair to couch a career in these terms.

It might be said that the decision to leave a high-caliber program like Iowa was curious if not downright suspicious. It is, however, unfair to make that assessment.

It might be said that the replacement choice -- Tracey Greisbaum -- represents more a loss for the U.S. program than a gain for Iowa. That is also unfair.

Instead, Beglin's life in field hockey is something to celebrate and make known for upcoming generations as an example of sacrifice and commitment.

After all, one leap of faith led to 199 wins. That doesn't happen very often.

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