Defense will be key as NU tries to rebound in 2002

Sam Hong

There isn’t much you can say about a 2-12 season.

But there’s a lot you can do about it.

Head coach Marisa Didio, who will begin the third year of her second stint as head coach of the Northwestern field hockey team in the fall, knows that her squad is in need of significant changes.

“I’m putting my squad up against some of the best, and the Big Ten is very strong nationally,” Didio said. “We didn’t see a lot of wins in that setting but we are certainly closing the gaps.”

Didio’s optimism has been fueled by a strong spring season in which the Wildcats went 10-7-5, including a 1-1 draw with 2001 Big Ten champion Michigan State.

The hard-fought deadlock is a sign of huge improvement for NU, which was blown out by the Spartans in the regular season last year, 5-0.

“The spring was great – we sat down as a coaching staff and found out what to change,” Didio said. “We worked up a new system of play and a new strategy of play with it. And the results that came out of it were pleasing, especially on the defensive side.”

Didio heavily emphasizes a strong defense as the key to success next year, after NU gave up 45 goals in 2001.

“The system that I used (last year) wasn’t working. It wasn’t bringing this group of players to its full potential,” Didio said. “The first thing you establish in this sport is the defense. Everything is built from the backfield up.”

Didio will continue to employ two goalkeepers, as she did last season. Junior Kendra Mesa and sophomore Katie Hall will share net-minding duties for the Cats in the fall.

In addition, NU will get another year from two of its two backs, juniors Lindsey Millard and co-captain Juli Fomenko.

Millard contributed offensively for the Cats last season, tying for the team lead in points with seven.

“(Millard and Fomenko) are going to be the key for us in our backfield,” Didio said. “My focus right now is in the backfield. We’re in a position where we have to get shutouts.”

NU also brings in seven new recruits next season to make up for the loss of two seniors, Kathryn Breed and Nicole Smith.

Another new face in the crowd is assistant coach Jeanie Shin, a Michigan alumna.

Shin was a three-year starter for the Wolverines and helped them reach the national championship game in 1999.

“(Jeanie) represents exactly what our kids want to do,” Didio said. “She’s seen the process of a developing team.”

For next year, Didio is concerned with utilizing a different system to negate the opposition’s talents.

“Last year we played a man system, which made us rely on keeping up with the skill and quickness level of the rest of the Big Ten,” she said. “And that’s what we’re trying to develop.”

At any rate, Didio realizes she is in the midst of a rebuilding program.

“We’re in a very good process, but the process is going to take time,” she said. “You respect the process and take care of it, and then the results will come.”