What was the highlight of coach Colleen Fink’s 2012 season?
“When we were told we were getting a new field,” she laughs.
Her retort is a little facetious, yet 100 percent justified. With the new Ellen Vagelos Field in place, Penn field hockey has its first field hockey-specific field ever. That means that the Quakers will no longer remain the only Ivy school without AstroTurf, the playing surface for the overwhelming majority of Division I programs.
Which in turn signals that Fink’s program will no longer be at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to other Ivies in scheduling, recruiting and gameplay.
For too many years, the Quakers had to load vans with players and equipment and drive to Drexel or Temple, usually before sunrise, to practice at those schools’ AstroTurf facilities in order to prepare for the faster play that AstroTurf facilitated in most of their away games.
“It was a challenge tactically where you had to change your entire style of play based on the field surface you’re playing on,” Fink said.
And since AstroTurf teams generally do not want to play games on a non-AstroTurf field, getting recruits and competition alike to come to Franklin Field (which has had a SprinTurf surface since 2004), was always a challenge.
“People always said that playing at Franklin Field was such an advantage,” Fink said. “But when you’re playing two days a week over at Drexel and playing two days a week at Franklin Field, that advantage starts to dissipate over time.
“No college field hockey coach wants to hear, ‘Well, the stadium’s historic and it’s an amazing place.’”
But Vagelos Field isn’t the hard sell that Franklin Field was, and the proof is already in the scheduling. Over the summer, Penn locked down a home-and-home series with Maryland that will bring the eight-time NCAA champion Terrapins to River Fields in 2015.
The only difficulty that the Quakers are having with Vagelos Field is their belief that it’s still too good to be true. Penn’s first practice on the new field is slated for Mon., Sept. 9.
“I honestly still don’t think it’s sunk in [for the players,]” Fink said.
Last Tuesday, though, it finally hit Fink that she was getting what had been her top priority since taking over as Penn’s coach in April 2010.
“They put the Penn field hockey windscreens around the perimeter and for some reason I got a little choked up, got the chills,” Fink said. “I wanted to call Ellen Vagelos right then and there and share with her that moment and that excitement. I don’t think it’s fully going to set in until we have our first game.”
Vagelos, the lead donor for the project, committed what Fink called a “pretty significant” pledge on the condition that current and former alumni and parents matched her pledge. Fink has been sending Vagelos pictures of her namesake field’s development on a weekly basis.
Although Fink says that Vagelos is based in New York, she expects her to be on-hand when Penn’s Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics dedicates the field before the Quakers take on national champion Princeton on Nov. 9.
Fink just hopes Vagelos Field makes the Quakers feel like champions too.
“I think the team is going to feel a lot more important,” Fink said. “I think they’re going to feel really good about themselves.
It’s just like getting a nice new uniform. You feel pretty good.”
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