AN APPRECIATION

Beth Bozman, head coach, Princeton University

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

History will reveal why Beth Bozman, so entrenched in the field hockey community as head coach of Princeton University, suddenly resigned from her post in late January 2003 to take a similar position at Duke University.

All I know is that the Blue Devils are getting a heck of a tactician.

To my mind, Beth Bozman may be the single best tactical coach that is presently in NCAA Division I field hockey.

Some may be better recruiters, some may be better preparers, some may be better (or more vocal) motivators, but if my as-yet-born daughters had to play a field hockey game for control of the universe one day, I'd want to have Beth Bozman drawing up the game plan.

For 15 seasons, a flurry of orange and black with names like Vergara, Rebane, Hale, O'Malley, Fruscione, MacFarlane, Townsend, and Friebe have trolled the hockey fields of the Princeton campus.

The team, at a below-.500 level before she entered the fray, started competing with the best in the country. I saw an under(wo)manned team come within 16.7 seconds of beating a Penn State team which was a national title contender early in the Bozman era.

I saw later teams float, sprint, thrust, and parry with athletic fluidity. Princeton did everything right, from recruiting good students to putting championship-caliber teams on a good patch of turf; 1952 Stadium became a mecca for the central Jersey field hockey community.

Bozman's game plans were almost Lombardi-like: simple, executed with a maximum degree of effort. Her corners were spectacular when executed well: I remember her Tigers, back in 1997, stifle a University of Maryland team thanks to a number of well-executed corners off the stick of Amy MacFarlane, who found two inches where there should have been none.

She was able to attract smart, fit, creative players like Kirsty Hale and Hilary Matson, who could stretch defenses unlike anyone I had seen until that time.

Bozman's game plans, collectively, had purpose. Non-league contests were a combination of free substitutions and using a "must-win" starting lineup with the exception of one key freshman or sophomore who would use the game as experience for the next year or two.

But she knew that the non-league games -- including the likes of Old Dominion and Maryland, who she never ducked -- had less import than the seven Ivy League games she had to win in order to make the NCAA Tournament field. And her record in those games was 52-1 while winning nine straight Ivy League titles.

However, what is more important in terms of Bozman's tenure in the Ivy League is that she helped start a talent rush to the Ivy League that made just about every other member of the Ancient Eight better. When Bozman started out at Princeton, the Ivy champion was an afterthought; indeed, at times, her Tigers would have to endure a play-in game in order just to make the main bracket. However, the Ivies have recently had as many as four teams make post-season tournament play in both the NCAAs and the ECACs.

But Bozman's teams never won an NCAA championship. And it wasn't for lack of trying. Her 1998 team, playing with a backup goalkeeper and a key midfielder with a missing ligament in her knee, came within a goal of defeating Old Dominion.

She had plenty of talent in her recent teams. But you could understand her frustration when a number of high-caliber recruits, especially from New Jersey's top-level scholastic teams, decided to go to school out of state.

Oh, sure, she was able to snare A-campers like Kelly Darling, the Martirosian twins, and Hilary Schmidt, but seeing the likes of Lori Hillman (Michigan) go elsewhere had to have her wondering if the helm of an ACC or Big 10 team might be more to her liking.

And Bozman, being the great hockey tactician, couldn't help but to jump at the chance to work with a scholarship program.

Well, it has happened. And I think Bozman and the ACC are better off for it.

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