Talking to Penn field hockey co-captain Amna Nawaz, it would be hard to believe that she now heads a team that went 1-6 in the Ivy League last year. Or a team that has lost most of its juniors and seniors to injury and other activities. "So far, we're off to a great start," Nawaz said. "Everybody's done what we can expect from them right now." Although the senior defender's optimism appears to be a character trait, it is also a leadership quality that can often be overlooked in the intense world of college athletics. So while Nawaz might not be the best player on her team, or the most aggressive, or even the most realistic, she can foster relationships between team members that could prove to be the team's most important asset. One need only look as far back as last season's Quakers to see how important it is to foster cohesion between teammates. After what Nawaz and Penn coach Val Cloud described as "team-building" problems, last year's Red and Blue sought the help of a sports psychologist in order to try to encourage bonding between the players. Despite the help of the psychologist, the list of upperclassmen who dropped off the team for one reason or another is long enough to create speculation as to whether their lack of loyalty to the team was the true motive for leaving. Thus, it seems more important than ever that someone with Nawaz's capabilities lead the team into what the Quakers hope will be a brighter season. So far, the team problems of the past do not appear to be affecting this year's women. And with the 12 practices the team was allowed last spring and the two weeks they have had leading up to tonight's opener, Penn appears to have a much more cohesive unit. "Last spring was instrumental for building relationships," Nawaz said. "Last year we used the psychologist for team building, but this year it isn't a problem." While all of the credit for the team's improved cohesiveness can't be given to Nawaz, it seems that her optimism has been very helpful to her teammates. The youth of the Penn roster may have something to do with the current era of good feelings. There are currently only six upperclassmen on a squad that boasts 11 sophomores and 10 freshmen. In a very real sense, those upperclassmen that are left have made a commitment to the team, and the younger players can recognize that. Nawaz, along with junior co-captain Monique Horshaw, is obviously at the forefront of that. "Amna's spirit 1and leadership has been integral on and off the field," Cloud said. "She is a very, very giving person. She is a demanding player of herself as well as supportive of others." In fact, although Nawaz's personality has been a strength in uniting the team, it might have inadvertently worked to her disadvantage on the field. "Amna has to work on the field to not be so nice," Cloud said. "To not be so willing to say sorry." So while the Penn field hockey team will have to wait until after their game today in order to have a glimpse into their chances for the rest of the season, they can be sure -- no matter what the outcome is -- that Nawaz will be there to encourage them and get them psyched for their next game. After all, a team's desire to win is only as strong as their loyalty to each other. With Nawaz's team-building skills and the desire of this relatively young team to remove any doubts about its ability to perform, Penn is looking ahead at a season of growthComments powered by Disqus
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