Aug. 22, 2003
EVANSTON, Ill. -
In eight seasons as the head coach of the Northwestern field hockey program, Marisa Didio has pretty much seen it all from her Wildcats. Whether it was 1994-the year in which NU charged all the way to the national semifinal, or 2000, her first season back at the helm after a five-year absence from NU-Didio has seen her teams take on a number of different identities.
Entering her ninth and final season at helm of the NU program, Didio hopes to see this year's brand of Wildcat field hockey continue to build upon an identity based on a defensive system that she installed only a year ago. The 2002 Wildcats' success was due in no small part to their play on the defensive end of the field. The 'Cats held opponents to just 30 goals all season, compared to the 45 they surrendered in 2001.
"There is no question that our strength going into the season is our team defense," said Didio. "We have tried to build a system around our players' talents and we are now learning to trust it."
It often takes strong leadership, particularly from upperclassmen, to develop trust in a system. While only five players on this season's roster are juniors or seniors, Didio claims that they will be the heart and soul of the squad.
"Whatever direction those players take will shape the direction of our team. The three seniors have been very loyal and have stayed the course throughout their careers and the maturity and leadership they bring to our team is invaluable," Didio said.
With seniors Diane Provencher, Suzi Sutton and Katie Walshauser, and juniors Candice Cooper and Morgan Kuhn leading a group of young, but experienced players, the 'Cats may have what it takes to send Didio out a winner.
While Didio expects the defense to anchor the team, she is quick to point out that the Wildcats have made improving their attack a top priority.
"The key for us this season is how effective we are controlling the match offensively. We made great strides in the offseason with being able to attack patiently but aggressively," said Didio.
The foursome of Cooper, who led the Wildcats with 19 points last season, combined with Sutton, Walshauser, and sophomore Holly Palin should prove formidable. Cooper has improved "leaps and bounds" with her physical training and conditioning in the offseason according to Didio and expects to put up numbers similar to last season. Sutton went down late last season with an injury, but should be 100%. Christine Nannicelli was one of only two freshmen to start every game last year, but missed much of the winter and spring activities due to illness.
Sophomore goalkeeper Kelly Augustine was thrown into the mix a bit earlier than expected last season, but will undoubtedly benefit from the experience. However, Didio hopes the backs will keep opponents far from the net to begin with.
"We want to have our defense to the point where the goalkeeper isn't in a position to face a number of shots. The goalkeeper's job should be made simple," she said.
Two of the players hoping to keep opponents from getting anywhere near the net are sisters Diane and Kristin Provencher. Didio expects Diane, who is a fifth-year senior, to have a breakout season.
"She brings a whole new level of maturity and presence to our team," said Didio.
Without question, the Big Ten has been one of the elite conferences in the nation. Penn State and Michigan State both advanced to the Final Four last season and both appear on this year's schedule once again. Didio is excited for her Wildcats to have a "break through" game and feels as though it could come against a league foe.
"Each match is an opportunity to position ourselves. We know we can compete with the best- now we want to beat the best," said Didio. "It takes every player knowing they have the ability to make plays. They are all capable of making big plays this season."