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Archive for November 2, 2006

Nov. 2, 2006 — Maria Whitehead, 1981-2006

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 around 5-foot-3, and was perhaps 110 pounds soaking wet. But perhaps the USFHA was measuring her heart, her fire, and her soul.

p-whitehead2001.jpgMaria Whitehead died yesterday at the age of 25. She was a fireball of a player when she competed for Wake Forest University, winning an NCAA title her senior year. She played on the junior national team in 2000 and 2001, helping a burgeoning side to second place in the Junior Pan-Ams. And in 2005, she earned a slot in the 25-member senior women’s national team pool.

Maria 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 before deciding on coaching as a vocation. She coached at St. Louis University for three years until she developed an unexplained pain in her hip last year. The diagnosis was melanoma, which eventually spread to her brain. She took leave from the team in the fall.

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 I knew things were bad when Maria quit the St. Louis job a few weeks later to take the assistantship at Duke University — which not only has good hockey, but a world-famous cancer center.

And now, she has gone home. This website dedicates the entire month of November to her memory.

Nov. 1, 2006 — Tipping points, but no Chick-Fil-A

I made the annual pilgrimage to Oakton (Va.) to see the Northern Regional semifinal matches.

I enjoy the trek to Oakton because I can ride the Orange Line of the Washington, D.C. Metrorail system and take a short walk. I think it’s the most Metro-accessible hockey pitch in the region.

In any case, I like to try to make the regional semifinals here because it is one of the great places to see a field hockey game in the United States. Two side-by-side grass pitches are fenced in with plastic fencing so that the spectators in the movable bleachers are almost right on top of the action. The games have a slightly staggered start time so that the games don’t end at the same time; the action is continuous. The concession stands have everything from hamburgers to hot chocolate, and even concessions from Chick-Fil-A, Subway, and pizzas from a local eatery.

This year, however, there were some changes. I didn’t get any Chick-Fil-A this year, but a grilled hamburger and Cool Ranch Doritos hit the spot. Too, the plastic fencing was replaced with the stakes-and-ropes fencing you might find at a golf tournament. 

What was also missing from these semifinals was the extreme drama of past years. Usually, these  semifinal “tipping point” matches (from which the winner is guaranteed two games as well as entry into the state tournament, and the loser of the match has 10 long months to rue what might have been) are some of the most intense games of the entire field hockey season in the United States.

It’s kind of like how a professional race car driver might take more risks in Daytona 500 or Indianapolis 500 pole qualifying than during the rest of the entire racing season.

Turns out that much of the drama had been wrung out in the quarterfinals held two nights earlier. Three of the four matches went into extra time, one went into strokes. And the fourth wasn’t decided until late in the second half.

Still, the Northern Region tipping-point matches made heroines, perhaps none moreso than Westfield (Va.) goalkeeper Jennifer Wisniewski. She made seven stops, many in the second half as Langley (Va.) attempted to narrow a 2-1 deficit.

She and her sister Stephanie are twins. And both wear the goalkeeper pads. Now, I’ve seen many sets of field hockey-playing twins — the Correntis, Luybers, and Careys in Florence (N.J.), and the Martirosians and Meerschwams out of Princeton University, for example — and they usually occupy similar roles on the pitch.

Never seen twin goalies, though.