Honor. Courage. Commitment.
These are the ideals reflected in the Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, and when Penn field hockey’s starting keeper Liz Mata leaves Ellen Vagelos Field for the last time, she will not only have lived up to these values on the field, but she will also continue to live up to them wherever life takes her.
The senior enters her final season of Ivy League play this weekend when the Quakers (2-4) take on their first Ancient Eight opponent, Cornell (5-1).
Let’s go back to 2014, Mata’s freshman year.
At the time, the Red and Blue had to overcome a fair bit of adversity in selecting a goalie for that season; then-incoming senior Carly Sokach had decided to depart from the program, leaving the spot up in the air. Mata herself dealt with challenges during the preseason that kept her out of goal as well, as she was struck in the side of the head with a ball, fracturing her orbital bone just three days into training.
Mata’s injury, along with Sokach’s departure, forced Penn field hockey to turn to then-senior Allison Weisenfels, who originally played as a forward, to take over the starting goalie position. Though Mata only recorded one start during her freshman year, she draws significance from the lessons she learned that season.
“I couldn’t necessarily play, but I [was] gonna work as hard as possible to get my skills up to that collegiate level,” the Severna Park native recalled. “If anything, it gave me the foundation to know put in the work on the front end to get the results on the back end.”
Mata clearly drew inspiration from Weisenfels stepping up and changing positions.
“She came in as a forward and played goalie. That’s the absolute sacrifice, in terms of coming back to the team,” Mata said. “Working with her and playing with her showed me that you’re not doing this for yourself; you’re doing the hard work for the value of the team.”
Flash forward to 2017.
Mata is now in her third consecutive season as primary starter for the Red and Blue. She has posted awe-inspiring performances since her freshman season, highlighted by five career shutouts and a career-high 14-save performance against Delaware last season.
As to what makes Mata so good? It is really best explained by coach Colleen Fink.
“Liz asks a lot of questions; she really wants to understand the game, understand what the defense in front of her is doing,” the eighth-season coach of the Red and Blue said. “I think it puts her in a position to understand what the tactics are from a team standpoint, and not just being a ‘save-maker.’”
For Mata, she finds that overall improvement does not just depend on working on footwork and athleticism, but sharpening her mind as well.
“Especially for goalies, the game is so mental, that I had to work hard on my skills and mentally preparing for the games,” the goalie asserted. “That’s something I’m, still working on, and I’m still probably gonna work on, even though I’ll be done with field hockey in a couple weeks, which is weird to say.”
The end of Mata's field hockey career and her time at Penn will lead straight into a new chapter in her life. Following graduation, Mata will be commissioned as a naval officer, after completing her program with the NROTC while at Penn.
It's a prophecy that seemed fitted to her from the start. Her father was in the Navy for 20 years, and she even grew up near a naval academy in D.C..
As of now, Mata is unsure as to what her service selection will entail or where it will take her.
But no matter how far from the between the pipes on Ellen Vagelos Field she is, one thing is certain: Liz Mata is “gonna [be] working as hard as possible.” Expect nothing less.
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