New coach could bring new fortunes for Cats

Dave Goldstein

The Northwestern field hockey team is hoping that the return of an old coach will bring with it the return of some old winning ways.

Marisa Didio, who coached NU from 1990-1994, returned to Evanston to find a program lacking in the success it had enjoyed during her tenure. While the Didio-led Wildcats made the NCAA tournament semifinals in 1994, the 1999 team won only four games — none of them in the Big Ten.

With Didio comes instant credibility, and the players are already reaping the benefits.

“(Didio) has coached winning teams and she has a really strong game plan,” junior Kat Breed said. “We’ve improved already, as far as knowledge of the game, strategy, fitness and fundamentals.”

All of those improvements should come in handy for the Cats. NU lost eight games by a single goal last season, and a little more stamina or a more structured attack could be the difference between a disappointing season and a successful one.

“A one-goal loss is still a loss,” Didio said. “But there’s a willingness to learn in this team. I’ve witnessed their work habits and they look positive. This group is eager to create the best team possible next year.”

Sophomore Michelle Cifelli said Didio stresses two things: showing heart and being a competitor.

“A lot of times when a big goal was scored against us last season, we let down and got complacent,” Cifelli said. “With (Didio), we’re going to be competitors until the very last second of the game.”

Although the Cats had little success in 1999, they are not without talent. Leading scorer and second team All-Big Ten forward Amy Haase and her senior class will graduate, but NU will have seven starters returning, including regional All-American goalkeeper Jess Yates, who will come back for a fifth season.

Yates was among the best in the nation last season, making almost 150 saves and sporting a 2.93 goals against average. Yates kept the Cats in numerous games, allowing just three goals or fewer in seven of the 11 Big Ten games.

“It’s huge for us,” Breed said. “She’s as good a goalkeeper as there is in the Big Ten. She just helps our defense so much.”

The offense will return some significant firepower as well. Senior Lindsay Wright was second on the team in goals and assists last season and her shot will be vital to NU’s fortunes in 2000. Wright and Yates will be joined as team captains by senior Wendy Roberts.

Roberts ranked fifth on last year’s team in shots on goal and points. She will provide steady leadership and experience, having started 16 of 18 games in 1999.

NU will also benefit from the maturation of last year’s freshmen. Cifelli scored a game-winning goal and Stacy Spenser started eight of 11 Big Ten games last season. With a strong class graduating, the sophomores will be critical to NU’s turnaround.

“As a freshman, you looked up to the seniors, but the returning players are doing a great job of stepping up,” Cifelli said. “We’re all taking leadership roles because on the field there are no upperclassmen or underclassmen. We’re all teammates.”

The Cats will also be adding some new teammates next season. NU already has signed a six-player recruiting class, and Didio said more talent could be on the way. But whoever joins this team needs to be ready to work if NU is to return to glory.

“The path we have to take is a tough one, but we all want to do it,” Cifelli said. “We’re tired of being embarrassed about our record. We want to prove to people who we really are. It may not happen right away, but it will happen.”