Jan. 2, 2004
EVANSTON, Ill. -
As an era of Northwestern field hockey comes to a close, a bright light of optimism shines in its future. Head coach Marisa Didio, who decided to retire at the conclusion of the season, patrolled the sidelines for the final time in 2003.
Before leaving, however, Didio restored the pride of NU field hockey she had spend so much of her career building. With a 9-9 overall record, the 'Cats made a strong statement to the rest of the nation that they are, once again, a force to be reckoned with.
Facing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Northwestern proved day-in-and-day-out that it is on the cusp of reclaiming its position among the country's elite. Of their 18 matches, the Wildcats faced teams in the NFHCA/STX Top 20 in nine of those meetings.
NU proved it could not only compete with, but also beat the best from the very beginning of the season. The 'Cats opened with a 3-2 victory over Boston College, who ended the season ranked No. 13. With a 3-1 record early in the season, the Wildcats jumped to No. 15 in the Top 20 poll.
After struggling early in league play, the 'Cats headed into the Big Ten Tournament on fire having outscored their final five regular season opponents 15-4, going 4-1 in that stretch.
Gaining the sixth seed in the tournament, the 'Cats faced Ohio State in the round and fell to the Buckeyes, 3-2, in a heart-stopper.
With nine victories, the 'Cats posted their most since 1996 and finished the season at .500 or better for the first time since 1995. Perhaps the biggest reason for the turnaround was NU's increase of offensive production. The 'Cats racked up 34 goals, ten more than the previous season.
For the second consecutive season, Candice Cooper led the team in points with 19. The junior tallied eight goals and three assists en route to being named second-team All-Big Ten. Cooper was also honored by the NFHCA as a first-team All-Midwest Region selection.
Senior co-captain Diane Provencher posted a stellar year to close out her NU career. She posted a career-high nine points and anchored a stingy Wildcat backfield. She was named second-team all-Big Ten and second-team All Midwest Region by the NFHCA. Provencher was also named to the all-Big Ten Tournament Team.
Freshman Meghan Small burst onto the scene, notching the second-most points on the team with 15 in only her first season and sophomore Christine Nannicelli continued to increase her offensive production with 13 points.
Small was not the only freshman to contribute immediately. Goalkeeper Sherri-Anne Nyberg earned the starting job in preseason and was in goal for the Wildcats' opener. The freshman tallied 89 saves on the season; many of them were of the "how did she stop that?" variety. Nyberg also recorded three shutouts on the season, including a 3-0 blanking of No. 20 California.
With only three seniors graduating, the 'Cats should expect to continue their push toward the top under the direction of Kelly McCollum, who takes over as head coach after serving as Didio's top assistant for the last four seasons.
The bright light of optimism could turn into a blinding beam of dominance as the 'Cats begin preparations for the 2004 season.