Spartans Look to Build on Success
When Michele Madison took over the Michigan State field hockey program four years ago, it was in her hands to restore a program that would once again challenge at the conference and national levels. Now entering her fifth season, Madison is poised with a team that can take them to the top.
The program has steadily improved under the Spartan mentor's guidance, last year turning its first winning season since 1987 and its most wins since 1980 with a 12-9 overall mark.
Most of that success can be attributed to the All-America play of seniors Rayna Hiscox and Jill Lusher. The third-team honorees combined for 27 goals and 20 assists, leading the team in the top two scoring positions.
"We're at the end of a cycle," Madison says. "Our seniors, Jill, Rayna and Emma (Fernandez), each have three years of starting experience to lead the team. Their role now becomes even more important for leadership. They are our playmakers on attack and have equally challenging defensive responsibilities."
Fernandez was third in team scoring with a career-high 11 goals and two assists en route to being selected CFHCA First-Team All-Midwest Region in 1996. Known for her tremendous speed, Fernandez along with Hiscox combine to form a potent Spartan attack.
In the backfield, Michigan State will be carried by Lusher's experience. Recently selected captain of the U.S. Under-21 National Team, she was invited to practice with the senior National Team over the summer to bolster her international experience. Lusher will miss the first few weeks of MSU's season while competing in Seoul, Korea at the Junior World Cup.
Besides her strength on defense, Lusher also uses her potent shot in team penalty corner situations, accounting for her team-leading 109 shots on goal last year.
"Jill will lead on defense and Rayna will lead on offense," Madison says. "Emma was a regional All-American the past three years. With the ability of these three working together and leading this team, anything's possible."
The Spartans will also be bolstered on defense by the experience of senior Sarah Wilson and juniors Deirdre McLinden and Melissa Pryor.
Wilson posted a 13-assist season in 1996, good for second-best on the MSU single-season chart. McLinden was second among the backfield group in scoring with five points (1g, 3a), starting all 21 games. Pryor, who also started all 21 games, often times became the last line of defense as evidenced by her team-leading seven defensive saves.
The Spartans will also receive contributions from sophomore Nicole Catanzaro, who was named the team's Rookie of the Year in 1996 after appearing in 19 of 21 contests.
Returning in goal for the Spartans is third-year netminder Beth George. George started in all 12 games she played in, posting a 7-2 record with two shutouts and 60 saves in the time she split with the graduated Tricia Gann. After posting a 2.30 goals-against average in 670:10 minutes of play, Madison is confident that George is ready for a steady starting role in goal.
"Beth has earned the position," credits Madison. "She has earned the right to start and anchor the defense. She has definite experience in the circle and significant international experience."
In addition to George, MSU will look to freshman Amy Ortwein. The 5-11 Hershey, Pa., native carried a 0.38 goals-against average with 16 shutouts her senior season and will make an excellent backup to George.
The biggest change for the Spartans will be at midfield where MSU lost three-time All-Big Ten, four-time All-Midwest Region and 1995 All-America middle player Terry Pacheco and 1996 All-Midwest Region and All-Big Ten midfielder Angela DiJames.
"Any time you lose your midfielders, it's tough," Madison says. "They run both ends of the field and are equally responsible for the attack. They are the workhorses on the team."
Coach Madison can turn to some palatable alternatives, however. Besides possibly shifting around her veterans, Madison will look to three of her nine incoming freshmen. The most promising of the crop is Netherlands import Sofie Frankenhuis, who has played with the Senior Team of the Amsterdam Hockey Club the past two years and this past summer. Also on Madison's list is California native Cyndyann Albaugh, who played for six years with the boys team because of her high school's lack of a varsity field hockey team. A true midfielder, Albaugh played with the gold-medal winning Under-16 Team at the Junior Olympics in 1995. Another Californian, Jacqueline Scally, figures to fit in Madison's midfield plans as well.
"Sofie has the most experience, playing with the top leagues in her country, and Cyndyann is a great passer with good vision and superb ballhandling skills," says Madison. "It is unusual for three freshmen to carry the midfield load for the team. They will need a lot of direction from Jill, Rayna, Melissa and Sarah."
"It's the first time since I've been at MSU that the lineup is so wide open," Madison added. "The freshmen will challenge for playing time this year. Everyone on this team will have a significant role in the success of the 1997 season. It will take 21 teammates day-in and day-out committed to the team's goals. 'Me' has to be put aside for 'we' for our dreams to come true."
Challenging for a top spot in the conference is always tough in the Big Ten, but Madison feels this is MSU's year to make a move in the conference.
"The Big Ten race will be a dog fight as usual," she says. "Each team has their own edge, ours is leadership, experience and youth. We have been waiting and preparing for this season since Nov. 8, 1996 and it's finally here."
For a team which cracked the national Top 20 three years ago to a team which held the No. 11 spot for six weeks last season, the path surely seems headed in the right direction.