Tracey Fuchs, midfielder, United States
One in an occasional series.
By Al Mattei
It's difficult to know what Tracey Fuchs' emotions were when she walked off the field for the last time as a capped American field hockey player that fateful April afternoon at Bridgstown, Barbados after a 3-0 loss to Argentina.
Pain, or peace?
For 269 matches played over 18 years, Tracey Fuchs' emotion, soul, and commitment have been left on artificial pitches from Virginia Beach, Va. to Cannock, England to Mar del Plata, Argentina to Seoul, South Korea.
And whether she has worn the red and blue of the United States, the navy and maroon of the University of Connecticut, or the grey and blue of the Centereach Cougars, this much has always been known about Tracey Fuchs: she was a born goal-scorer.
In the fall of 1983, Tracey Fuchs scored 82 goals in one season.
Yep, playing on bouncy, uneven grass, having to avoid sometimes two or even three markers designated to stop her, and playing with a square-toed stick barely removed from the age of tunics and white dress shirts, Fuchs scored goals at a rate unmatched by anybody else in Federation history.
For Fuchs, the game was not about craft and avoiding opponents' feet. Instead, it was about aggressiveness. Look at the fierce determination in her face in game photos that have appeared in everything from the National Federation record book to an Upper Deck trading card set to the "Game Face" traveling photo exhibition.
To understand Fuchs' mark, think of this: the other 12 players in recorded scholastic history to have scored at least 50 goals in a season all did it after her. In other words, her mark befits Ruthian comparisons to all who came before her.
Fuchs went to the University of Connecticut, winning a 1985 NCAA championship and setting goal-scoring and points records which have not yet been approached.
By 1987, Fuchs had made it to Team USA, helping the Americans to a silver medal in the Pan American Games.
The following year, the Stars and Stripes qualified for the Seoul Olympics, finishing eighth.
Tragically, it would be the last time that the Americans would qualify for the Olympics when it was not the host.
Since 1988, Fuchs has provided goals and plays at key junctures in an unrequited schedule for the sport's acceptance against a tide of competing interests. She provided a scintillating upfield pass to Carla Tagliente at the 1999 Pan American Games in Calgary in the final 22 seconds of the first half of the gold-medal game to draw level with a heavily-favored Argentina side. But the effort was unrewarded; the Americans gave up three in the second half.
In a three-game series with India, topping off a 10-month, 10,000-mile trip for the final berth in the 2002 World Cup, Fuchs scored not one, but two crucial goals in the 3-1 clinching win.
And in her last two tournaments, the 2004 Olympic Qualifier in Auckland, New Zealand and the 2006 World Cup Qualifier in Barbados, Fuchs seemed to be the one scoring the goals -- she had seven in each of these two qualifying tournaments, leading the U.S. team.
The women's sports revolution of the late 1990s has brought us glamorous No. 9s in American team sports named Leslie and Hamm, who have plied their trade all over the world, winning Olympic gold, world championships, and accolades from their peers.
But Tracey Fuchs was the toiling No. 9 before there was a U.S. women's soccer team, before a WNBA. Fuchs was also the stand-up No. 9 who, in 2000 at Milton Keynes, took the media questions after a 2-0 loss to China that eliminated the Americans from Olympic qualifications.
While Fuchs may have been invisible on the so-called "popular" American sports map, she has touched many lives on Long Island, in Connecticut, at the University of Michigan where she was an assistant coach, or at any hockey camp she worked.
Maybe, just maybe, she might have inspired another No. 9 to take her place.
But that jersey will be hard to fill from now on.