Friendship fuels field hockey ‘Cats

Paul Martucci

Friendship is a powerful emotion. It drives people to disregard personal interests and put the interests of others before their own. It motivates people to look past their typical fears and inhibitions and live life to the fullest. And for the Villanova field hockey team, it’s resulted in success.

On Oct. 15, the then 18th ranked Wildcats took on Big East rival and 13th ranked Louisville. At halftime, the team found itself down by a disturbing 4-0 tally.

“At halftime, we sat down and realized we had nothing to lose,” junior Lauren Campanelli said. “We knew that we could win the game if we played our game.”

Villanova entered the second half with a surge as goals by freshman Allison Boris and Campanelli cut the lead in half. Jessica Javelet, the nation’s leading scorer, quickly responded with a goal, increasing the lead to 5-2, but this didn’t disrupt the ‘Cats comeback pursuit. With only ten minutes remaining in the game, the comeback began.

Sophomore Stephanie Campbell found the net to bring the game back to a two goal deficit. Minutes later, Boris added her second goal of the game. Only nineteen seconds later, senior co-captain Rory Rogers received a pass from junior and team scoring leader Megan Foster and drove the ball into the goal.

“For some reason, this team just has a remarkable fashion of never giving up,” senior co-captain Natalie Balthrop said. “The players on the field always have the support of every single person on the bench. It definitely makes a difference.

The first overtime session went without scoring, but in the second overtime, the Wildcats struck.

“The goal really came off of us sticking to our game plan and playing as a team,” Rogers said. “Campo [Lauren Campanelli] and Schmitty [Sara Schmidt] delivered great passes and got me the ball. Once I had it, I just wanted to put it in.”

Rogers, who successfully put it in, notched the game winning goal, leaving Villanova victorious, 6-5.

“It really was an amazing game,” Campanelli said. “When you’re fighting to give everything you have to win a game, seeing it happen is just an incredible feeling.”

Head coach Joanie Q. Milhous agreed. “It was the greatest comeback I have ever been a part of,” she said. “I was so proud and excited for our girls because they have been working so hard and have the greatest attitudes.

“They just put everything they had in them into that second half and overtimes. They really stuck to our game plan in the second half. They played with so much more discipline and focused on a possession passing game as well as a sense of ‘getting it done’.”

This comeback against Louisville marked the team’s second remarkable comeback against a nationally ranked Top 20 team. On September 17, Villanova overcame a 3-1 deficit to defeat the defending Big East champ UConn Huskies. Amongst the team, there is a consensus as to what these wins can be attributed to – the textbook answer, hard work and sticking to the game plan, with a unique twist – friendship.

“Everyone on the team is really great friends, and when we play we all want to perform for each other,” Alex Whalen, Villanova’s winning goalie in the double overtime Louisville match after subbing in for junior Erin Scott, said.

“The friendship shows in our passing game, and the desire to perform for your friends definitely helps us.”

Campanelli voiced similar feelings toward the relationships on the team. “We’re all best friends off the field as well as on the field. I think that’s what makes us unique – most teams aren’t like that. It helps to have that chemistry.”

Coaches also agree with the sentiments Whalen and Campanelli described. “We’ve really got a great group of girls on this team. It can be attributed to a lot of our wins,” coach Andrea Grasso said.

Prior to the Louisville victory, the ‘Cats were on their first multi-game skid of the season, suffering their first Big East setback to Syracuse on October 8 and falling to Duke, ranked second in the nation, on October 11.

“The Syracuse loss was really frustrating and quite disappointing,” Milhous said. “I know we were not overlooking them, but it was more a matter of our team thinking during the game, ‘It’s O.K., we will score and we’ll get another chance.’ We worked hard but we did not do what it took to finish.

“Duke on the other hand was an exceptional team. They are #2 in the country for good reason. Their passing game and midfield play were incredible. They were really strong but I felt (as did the team) that we could have put up more of a fight. This was a great experience for our team.”

The Wildcats built on the momentum gained from the Louisville game by shutting out Philly rival St. Joseph’s 2-0 on Wednesday. This victory avenged a disappointing 4-3 overtime loss last year at St. Joe’s.

In winning, the ‘Cats also earned the City 6 title. This is the first time the team has earned this title, and, according to Milhous, winning this title is associated with a lot of “pride”.

The Wildcats’ one remaining game will be played Sunday at one p.m. at Villanova Stadium against Providence. A victory will ensure the team a regular season first place finish in the Big East and the top seed in the four team Big East Championship.

“Sunday we’re going to come out focused on winning,” Whalen said. We’ll string 70 minutes together and, as always, play as a team to achieve the win.”

With some of Villanova’s biggest games soon to come in the upcoming weeks, the team’s players and coaches hope that the remarkable friendship and hard work that has brought this team to such a high level will continue to guide the ‘Cats to success.