Medline: Field hockey hurts so good
October 2, 2012
Field hockey is a god-awful sport to watch.
This is coming from a Canadian familiar with most things NHL: At my first game as a Northwestern field hockey beat reporter, I had no idea what was going on.
About 30 minutes in, I realized players could only touch the ball with the flat side of the stick. For the record, this looks incredibly awkward.
The referees seemed to arbitrarily award penalty corners — where a corner kick meets an art form — to the point where fans often yelled "Bad call!" just because.
It seems impossible to make field hockey popular, at least in this country. Even during the Olympics, when moody Joel McHale-lookalike water polo studs earn their fifteen minutes of fame, field hockey receives precious little recognition.
The same holds true at NU. Last season, the Wildcats hosted Michigan in a critical late-season matchup. Official attendance: 217. The College Republicans could probably get 217 people to an event.
After my first game and my first uninformed interview with coach Tracey Fuchs, I was counting down the days until the season ended.
But by the next month or so, my opinion of the sport had changed completely. Call field hockey my irrational love.
I am currently overjoyed by this team. On Friday, the top-10 Cats beat then-No. 6 Penn State at home, which marked a signature victory. With the nation's best player, Chelsea Armstrong, and added depth, this team has the makings of a national title contender.
Similar optimism surrounded the program last season. The Cats stormed to a 10-3 record before collapsing in the latter half of the season. It was hard not to feel for them.
After a devastating loss to lowly Yale, I ran into a player at Burger King, the birthplace of meaningful interactions. In a classic freshman moment, I introduced myself as the team beat writer. She almost literally retreated, then asked what I wrote about the Yale game. To her and to the rest of the team, it really mattered.
During that late-season stretch, NU lost six of its last eight games, including a 6-1 meltdown against Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The loss wasn't for lack of effort. The Cats kept going to the well, searching for ways to win as the frustration mounted. Despite their talent and potential, the season gradually slipped away.
Each sport has its glaring imperfections. Human nature keeps us fans coming back for more. In the end, I grew to appreciate field hockey not for what I still don't understand, but instead for what I always did. At NU, as with everywhere, athletes are more than just players on a field. They fight for their school, driven by a common competitive nature.
On an October afternoon last year, it was pouring rain as I headed to the Thomas Athletic Complex to interview the players. It struck me that practice may have been called off. If not, I assumed that the players on a slumping team would be under cover, complaining about the weather and the injustice.
But sure enough, when I arrived, the players were raring to go. They sat patiently and responded to questions as I scribbled furiously on a soaked yellow notepad.
As I was finally leaving, someone called out to me: "Write that we're having fun."
They sure were, and after all of the skepticism, I was too.