A year and a half ago, I documented the plight of the Penn field hockey team.
They didn’t — and still don’t — play on the proper type of turf on their home field. And as of now, there are no official plans to change that.
Famed North Carolina coach Karen Shelton, who has led the Tar Heels to four of the last five NCAA championship games, said she wouldn’t play a team on anything but AstroTurf.
“Nobody with a serious program plays on anything but AstroTurf or a carpet surface,” Shelton told me in March 2011. “Any program that wants to be competitive in the sport of field hockey and wants to make a commitment to it — they must have the AstroTurf.”
Despite Shelton’s assertion and Penn coach Colleen Fink’s admittance that there is a “ceiling” you can’t get overcome without the proper playing surface, a field hockey field was not included in recent Penn Park renovations.
The athletic department did have its reasons — mainly that for every other sport, AstroTurf is impractical and more dangerous.
Regardless, it seemed as if the Quakers’ fate was sealed: Without the proper facilities, Penn wouldn’t be able to schedule competitive teams at home and would be forced to travel for true tests and growth; players would leave the team unhappy with the conditions and empty promises for a proper field; the coaching staff wouldn’t be able to recruit good players. This would all spiral downhill until the team was relegated to club or junior-varsity status.
But despite less-than-ideal conditions, Fink and her team have only prevailed.
In 2011, Penn went 3-14 on the season. Four games into 2012, the Quakers have three wins more goals than they had in their first 12 outings last year.
The ceiling certainly still exists — at this point there’s no telling how much the Red and Blue will improve over their 2-5 Ivy record last season — and it’s unclear where exactly that ceiling lies.
But progress is progress, especially in the face of adversity. Fink’s brought in recruits that have already made significant impacts on the team just four games into the season. Freshman Elizabeth Hitti has two goals and two assists and earned Ivy Rookie of the Week honors for her performance last weekend.
Even in sheer numbers, it’s clear that the team is moving in the right direction. Fourteen of Penn’s 23 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores.
The season is still quite young — maybe even too young to make any true judgments — but this team has energy, spunk and determination. They currently hold the best record of all fall sports teams at Penn, and they’re prepared to keep fighting.
These Quakers are worth a watch, even if you don’t understand half the rules of the game. Perhaps it will take a few more improved seasons to obtain the ever-important reward of their own field, but with the way the Red and Blue have opened up the season, they certainly deserve it.
MEGAN SOISSON is a senior health and societies major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and is senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her e-mail address is soisson@theDP.com.