AN APPRECIATION

Maria Whitehead, forward, Wake Forest

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei
Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

On her U.S. Field Hockey bio page, Maria Whitehead is listed as being 5-foot-10, 160 pounds.

She wasn’t.

Maria Whitehead stood about 5-foot-3, and was maybe 110 pounds soaking wet. But perhaps the USFHA was measuring her heart, her fire, and her soul.

As a player, she was an absolute fireball when she competed for Wake Forest University, winning a national championship her senior year. She played on the United States junior national team in 2000 and 2001, helping a burgeoning side to second place in the Junior Pan-Ams.

And in January of 2005, she made the 25-member senior women's national team pool. But she never earned a senior cap.

Maria Whitehead died Nov. 1, 2006. She was just 25.

Throughout her playing days, Whitehead received some of the best coaching possible. She played at West Chester (Pa.) East for Diane Horsey, then played for former U.S. international Jen Averill at Wake Forest.

Perhaps she felt the need to pass on the lessons she has learned from her mentors, because she decided on coaching as a vocation. She coached at Saint Louis University for three years. By the 2005 season, she was steering her Billikens to a 7-11 season, the best record for the program since 1991.

But that fall, she developed an unexplained pain in her hip. The diagnosis was melanoma, which eventually spread to her brain. She took leave from her coaching position at Saint Louis in mid-season.

The last time The Founder saw her was at the 2006 National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association convention in Philadelphia. The stubble on her scalp could not obscure the large, oval scar where brain surgery had been performed. She still wore her Billikens garb.

But you knew that her cancer was likely to have taken a turn for the worse when she left the her head coaching job a month later to take the assistantship at Duke University, where there is not only an excellent hockey team, but a world-famous cancer center.

When this website underwent a redesign in October 2006, one component we wanted to add was a link for fundraising within the field hockey community. The one name that came to mind was Maria Whitehead. The color chosen for the icon was purple, the color of the fundraising bracelets sold last year to raise money for her medical expenses.

This website will eventually adjust for other causes. But that icon will forever remain purple in her honor.

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