AN APPRECIATION

Carla Tagliente, midfielder, University of Maryland

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

Carla Tagliente came to the University of Maryland with a three-word price on her head, courtesy of Sports Illustrated WomenSport: "Best Freshman Ever."

When those words were printed in the magazine's 1997 college field hockey preview, huge expectations were placed squarely on the young midfielder from Cortland, N.Y.

These were expectations of excellence, championships, school and national records -- and perhaps changing the way the game is played in the United States.

These are not ordinary expectations placed on one 18-year-old. It's like projecting that a baseball pitcher will be so good that the mound is lowered five inches. It's like saying that a basketball center will be so dominant that the free-throw lane is widened or the slam dunk is outlawed.

These are the kinds of expectations under which many 18-year-olds stagger and, often, fall.

But Carla Tagliente didn't struggle, didn't falter. For four seasons at Maryland, she took all of the pressures and expectations and turned them into positives.

For four years, Tagliente has been an All-American -- the last three as a first-teamer. She has scored goals, passed, shot, and tackled her way into ACC field hockey history as one of the best all-around players ever to wear an NCAA college uniform.

It's not as though she decided to immerse herself totally into athletics like many of her generation does in big-time college sports. Instead, she became a business and logistics major at Maryland and managed close to a 4.0 average in her classes. Indeed, she has been named more than once to the national All-Academic team.

Tagliente's career was good individually, becoming the Terrapins' all-time leading scorer (73 goals and 41 assists). She also had a good team career, as Maryland won the 1999 NCAA title and the 1999 and 2000 ACC championships. Maryland also went to a pair of Final Fours with her on the team.

Oddly enough, in Tagliente's four post-scholastic field hockey years, perhaps her finest moment was one which was purely symbolic. The symbolism was that Tagliente -- one of the youngest members of the 1999 United States Pan-American Games team -- scored a game-tying goal from a pass by Tracey Fuchs -- one of Team USA's oldest members -- against Argentina in the gold-medal game.

It was a goal scored with time running out. Time running out in the first half; there was a second half of hockey remaining, which the Albicelestes dominated in a 5-2 win.

You can also argue that her finest moment was in the second overtime of the 1999 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Wake Forest. Tagliente, with the game heading towards the 90th minute of play, stole the ball near the midfield stripe and wove a sinuous path towards the Wake scoring circle.

Sensing that her opponents may be flagging in energy, she attacked, found an opening, and scored the game-winner.

The incident showed Tagliente's complete game: fitness, tenacity, ball-skills, hitting ability, game sense, and an underrated quickness. Barring injury or some exterior circumstance, she should have a fine career in international hockey.

Oh, and as for that remark about being the best freshman ever? Might that magazine, now named SI for Women, revise that remark for Carla Tagliente's sophomore, junior, and senior seasons? Time will tell.

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