years ago, I was a freshman in the dorms and field hockey sensation Chelsea
Armstrong was an Australian transfer student who just happened to live next
door. Her roommate was my best friend and teammate so I frequented their room
often, many times only catching little bits of conversation with Chelsea before
she ran off to one of her legendary late-night study sessions in the library.
Her accent garnered a slew of hall-wide fans; a number that vastly increased
when everyone figured out just how tremendous she was on the field. It became
normal for floor mates to cover Chelsea's door in newspaper clippings that
heralded her performances.
I'll never forget that spring day when I walked into their room and saw a glittering First Team All-Big Ten trophy thrown onto the refrigerator. No pedestal. No shrine. No glory. Her first season of American collegiate field hockey and Chelsea had already earned All-Big Ten honors on top of NFHCA First-team All-West Region honors. You would never know.
"My roommate gave me a hard time for quite some time after that, but there was no where in our little dorm room to put [the trophy]!" reminisced Armstrong. "Now after a couple years, I understand college field hockey and the Big Ten Conference. Looking back, it was obviously a great honor and something I wouldn't have expected coming over."
That's Chelsea Armstrong. Always humble. Always unassuming.
And always outperforming the competition. Two years later, nothing's changed.
"Che" made Northwestern field hockey history twice in the span of the last 11 days. First, on September 18, the junior midfielder had three goals versus 18th ranked Virginia that shattered Northwestern's 23-year-old record for all-time career points. Her performance led the Wildcats to a 5-3 win and a No. 15 ranking in the polls. And just three days ago, in the 'Cats' 6-1 victory over Saint Louis, Armstrong became the university's all-time leader in career goals with her seventh career hat trick.
"To be honest, the win meant more to me than the records. There was all this fuss about the records but that game [against Virginia] was the best I've played in at Northwestern; just so exciting and everyone so jacked up. It was a special game," said Armstrong.
When asked about scoring her first record-breaking goal against Virginia, Armstrong laughed, claiming the moment was "anticlimactic" because her team had been down by two. Teammate Nikki Parsley says she's "never once heard or seen Chelsea boast of an accomplishment," but where Chelsea isn't one to rant and rave, her teammates pick up the slack. As she headed into the September 18th game just one point away from surpassing Sannie Van Djick's career points record, teammates joked about who would get the assist for the record-breaking goal throughout the week. Some of the girls stashed pre-made posters at the game and even Head Coach Tracy Fuchs hid flowers in her car.
"I'm not huge into records, but I think with such a great tradition in Northwestern field hockey-- with all the final fours back in the 1990s, it's really amazing," said Fuchs, who recruited Armstrong from Australia. "We hit the lottery with Chelsea. She's a great person and a great teammate, and she would rather pass the ball than score it... She's just one of the best people and players I've ever coached."
Armstrong came to Northwestern after attending the University of Western Australia for one year. She was a member of Western Australia's national team at the U-15, U-18 and U-21 levels, winning a gold medal with the U-21 team in 2008. Originally a defender, Fuchs switched her to the midfield/forward position after one look at her quick shot. After two seasons here, Chelsea's a two-time first-team NFHCA All-West Region and All-Big Ten honoree, the 2010 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and the 2010 Big Ten leader in goals (24), points (60) and points per game (3.16).
"Watching Chelsea steadily surpass the all time points and goal records has been a once in a lifetime opportunity. I could not be more proud of her. She has a relentless attitude and refuses to settle for anything less than her best. Because of her unwavering work ethic, "Che" has secured a spot in the record books," said Parsley, a sophomore. "Seeing her hard work inspires me to give my all. I hope someday I can have the profound effect on someone else that Chelsea has on me. I am incredibly blessed to call her my teammate."
Armstrong's feat was cause for celebration of another member of the Northwestern field hockey family-- former Wildcat Sannie Van Dijck-- who previously held what is now Armstrong's record to claim. A two-time Big Ten Player of the Year in the 1980s and the 1986 Big Ten MVP, Van Dijck lost a two-year battle with cancer last October. In her memory, current Wildcats now vote on the Sannie Van Dijck "Player's Player Award," an honor given to a teammate that "goes above and beyond the call of duty on and off the field," and Sunday became another occasion to celebrate her life and career. Fuchs said the afternoon was "special on both ends," as the Wildcats honored both women and the accomplishments they've each had for Northwestern field hockey, both on and off the field.
To this day, Chelsea remains as modest as ever, always the first to ask about someone else's life and the last to boast of her own. Watching her weave in and out of defenders with magical finesse before jacking the ball into the goal still makes my jaw drop. And knowing that she continues to pursue a degree in economics as a regular at the library remains all the more motivating. Her work ethic is uncanny. And her character? Pure gold.
She says she's finally found an appropriate spot for her All-Big Ten trophy. Two years and some countless awards later, perhaps she got the hint when they wouldn't all fit hidden on her refrigerator. But that is the beauty and the essence of Chelsea Armstrong. Twenty years from now, hers won't be just a name in the record books. It will be a small piece of all that she embodies: character, integrity and passion.