AN APPRECIATION

Gia Fruscione, goalkeeper, Princeton University

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

Ever since she was a schoolgirl, playing for a tiny Roman Catholic school on the outskirts of Princeton, N.J., Gia Fruscione has been chasing a dream.

That dream was to be not only the best field hockey goalie she can be, but to be the best. The desire has been shown in high school, where she was perhaps the No. 1 goalie recruit in in the prep graduating class of 1996 at Princeton Stuart Country Day School (N.J.).

It was further shown when she backstopped Princeton University to the past two NCAA Division I Final Fours, including the 1996 championship game as a freshman sensation.

She has had individual success with Team USA, having played for the inaugural U-16 select team, the U-18s, and the U-21 team which qualified for the 1997 Junior World Cup.

Gia Fruscione had marked the year 2000 on her mental calendar for her physical and mental peaking. She declined an national team training camp invitation in December 1997 to rest up for a 1998 during which she could build her skills.

The process, which would have included the USFHA Summer League, the 1998 Princeton season, and December's A-camp could have landed her on the senior women's national team, just in time for her to help the red, white, and blue to a berth in the Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.

And she looked on track: in an early practice session for the 1998 Summer League's Blue Team (which would in 1999 be named The Metro Rush), she looked unstoppable. All the training, the practices, the desire shone as brightly as her goalie mask during that morning at Princeton University. Bullet shots, rebounds from in close, flips and flicks: she stopped them all with the flair and tenacity of a Dominic Hasek.

But in early September, the dream was shattered -- literally. A poorly-timed slide on a dry patch of artificial turf resulted in a broken leg and the kind of ankle surgery reserved for race-car drivers.

For the first time in six years, Gia Fruscione did not do what she does best: stopping a field hockey ball perhaps better than anyone in the nation. The flash of an orange jersey, the pony tail bobbing out from the back of her helmet, the quick feet was not to be out on the field while Princeton made it to its third straight Final Four.

The 1998 season represented the kind of layoff which was detrimental to the United States' chances of making it to the 2000 Olympics. The United States needs to either win the Pan American Games tournament this summer Winnepeg, or take one of only a handful of remaining Olympic berths in what should be a free-for-all of a qualification tournament in 2000 in Milton Keynes, England.

Fruscione's recovery has been spotty. She did not wear a rigid cast during her convalescence. Rather, she had been wearing a removable cast which allowed for limited therapy during her convalescence, in hopes of maybe getting back to the team by the end of the regular season. However, she had a plate and several screws removed from her leg in the spring of 1999, which has further delayed her recovery.

Fruscione was listed as doubtful for spring hockey, and may have to wait until Summer League play for the Rush in June in order to make her return.

But this should be just another challenge for this outstanding young woman, who just happens to be one of the best in the world at what she does. You get the feeling she will be showing her stuff on the world stage -- not just at Summer League -- before too long.

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