AN APPRECIATION

Tiffany Trockenbrod, forward, The College of New Jersey

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

Tiffany Trockenbrod, the record-setting scorer for The College of New Jersey's field hockey team, left her final collegiate contest on crutches.

But it was on her terms, and it was entirely her choice. Just before she left the field, she unrolled her shinguards carefully, took off her shoes and socks, and took the padding off her surgically repaired knees, leaving a sinuous wrapping on a sore right knee. Only then did she take hold of the aluminum crutches and slowly make her way off the field.

This scene did not take place during the 1999 NCAA Division III field hockey championship game, but about 45 minutes after Trockenbrod and her Lions teammates celebrated a ninth championship with a 4-1 win over Amherst.

It was also about one hour after Trockenbrod could be seen rolling in pain on the Lions Stadium artificial turf, clutching her right knee. She was chasing a good through ball into the offensive left wing corner of the field, and made an abrupt stop. A jolt of pain shot through her body, making her collapse.

The Lions' fans were silent; many had remembered NCAA lacrosse championship games in the past when stars like Donna Pecoraro, Jill Shipley, and Jennifer Mazzucco were knocked out because of injury.

But once the training staff wrapped the right knee in a flexible bandage, Trockenbrod approached head coach Sharon Pfluger.

"Coach, I want to go in," she said.

"Are you sure?" asked the veteran head coach.

"This is it for me," Trockenbrod said with an earnest look in her eye.

That was enough for Pfluger to send Trockenbrod to the scorer's table for a substitute's card.

"I needed to know from her," Pfluger said after the game. "If the trainer said that she was OK, even if she had been limping around, I couldn't deny her that opportunity, for everything that she did for our program."

In other words, Trockenbrod saw to it that she would end her field hockey career on her own terms.

Her re-entry was doubly rewarded. The first reward came with the loud ovation from the fans, including the roll call of alumnae who came from far and wide to cheer on the young Lions. The second reward was another scoring chance. When the Amherst defense yielded a stroke seven minutes from time, Trockenbrod limped to the seven-yard spot for the attempt.

With the tension building between stroker and goalkeeper rising, Trockenbrod decided what to do -- again, on her own terms. She went against convention and flicked a world-class stroke into the upper right corner of the cage.The goal gave Trockenbrod her 37th of the season, more than any player wearing the uniform of Trenton State/The College of New Jersey had ever put away in one year.

Trockenbrod has never been one to let choices and destiny control her. She attended high school at Atlantic City (N.J.), a program which, like its surrounding town, has fallen on hard times in the 1990s.

"I think it was a blessing in disguise that I didn't go to a high-powered school like West Essex," she says. "All of the players from the high-powered schools would get recognition. But I always wanted to go to Trenton (State College)."

She got an inside look at what made the Lions so special from tagging along with her sister Wendy in attending team meetings. Wendy, a fine goalkeeper for many Lions' championship efforts over the years, is TCNJ's assistant coach.

"When my sister played here, she won a title in her sophomore and junior years," Tiffany Trockenbrod said after the game. "I won it my freshman and senior years. It's kind of like fate."

Trockenbrod realized her promise early as a member of the 1996 NCAA Division III field hockey championship team. She also took up the game of lacrosse, helping in the Lions' extension of a winning streak that would reach 105 games.

The success would come at a cost; in the spring of 1999, she had knee and shin splint surgeries to repair damage that cost her the 1997 and 1998 lacrosse seasons.

But Tiffany Trockenbrod played outstanding hockey in the fall of 1999, all the while knowing playing every moment as if it were her last. Playing with knees and shin splints like hers on artificial turf is like playing with a ticking time bomb: it was a matter of time before a blow-up.

At the end of her 1999 field hockey season, Trockenbrod had three years of lacrosse eligibility in front of her, as well as a trip to "A" camp for the 2000 Olympics. But, in keeping with her willingness to end her field hockey career on her own terms, she is not going to "A" camp, even as the most outstanding Division III player.

"I'm done," she said. "I'll be at the senior all-star game, but it's time for me to move on to coaching or something."

Tiffany Trockenbrod made her college choice, played, and ended her field hockey career on her own terms.

That's something few of us ever do, which is even more outstanding.

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