AN APPRECIATION

Katie Coffey, winger, Allentown (N.J.)

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

Katie Coffey, at first glance, doesn't seem to be cut out for field hockey, one of the most brutal sports played by American females.

The 5-foot-6 senior has innocent-looking dark eyes and cascading brown hair, and doesn't have the Amazon strength or the cheetah-quick speed of the blue-chip prospect. But the desire that she has shown in her recovery from a severe lower-leg break during the 1997 season has been remarkable.

During a 1997 game against Central Regional, she made a bad cut on a patch of rough ground which might have been the result of body contact. As a result, she had the kind of injury which, if you looked at an x-ray of her right ankle, might have looked like a grenade had exploded inside of it.

Coffey never played during Allentown's miracle run to the 1997 New Jersey Group II championship, thanks to the injury which left her in a leg cast for several months.

"I was so proud of them the whole time," Coffey said. "But it really did hurt that I couldn't really be out there and be a part of it."

She was relegated to team support duties: scorekeeping, helping out at practice, giving encouragement wherever possible.

"It was tough to watch them," Coffey said. "I wanted to be there as much as I could."

But somewhere inside of her, the desire to play, to participate in a winning program, burned as brightly as the sparkle in her eyes.

"Sometimes, when they had the easy drills, I would go out there with the cast," Coffey said. "I love field hockey so much, I would play it even if I had no hands."

Coffey's comeback came with Team Virginia in the Tri-State indoor field hockey league, held at The Peddie School the winter after Allentown's championship run. Playing alongside some of the people who would have been her teammates during last year's Redbird run through the Shore Conference and Group II tournament victories, she was a little slow and tentative at first.

It took about three games before she registered her first goal, but since then she went on a superb scoring run, becoming one of the top 10 scorers in the Tri-State league. She then took advantage of every chance to play in camps and in the Futures program.

"I think the Peddie league was really good, and helped me a lot," Coffey said. "And I went to Super Camp, which gave me a lot of experience."

And then on Sept. 12, 1998, Katie Coffey stepped onto a varsity field for the first time for a game which counted in the standings. This time, however, she joined a team with the moniker "defending Group II champions."

The player with the shimmering white uniform with the number 6 on her back kept jumping into the attack as if she had never been away. She did not score in her return, a 2-1 loss to Lawrence (N.J.), but it wasn't for a lack of effort.

"I have complete faith in my team," Coffey said. "I don't doubt that my teammates are going to get the ball. This loss is a wakeup call, and we're going to get it back."

Undoubtedly.

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