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Winter 2005

Field hockey coach Tina McDavitt discusses strategies with members of the team, also shown competing on the new Bello Field (below). The team has seen a turnaround, finishing 10–6 for the 2004 season.
Photo by Justin Allardyce Knight

Field Hockey Fever

What a difference a year makes. The Tufts field hockey team finished the 2004 season 10–6, nearly reversing their record from last year.

It’s a dramatic turnaround that has a lot to do with sheer talent, but team members are also quick to credit the arrival of a new coach and the chance to compete on new home turf—a state-of-the-art playing field.

“Having a new coach and a new field brought an excitement that we could grow from,” said senior midfielder/back Jayme Heller. “It was a new beginning.”

A year ago, Tufts finished with a 5–10 record and lost 6–0 to Bowdoin College in the first round of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Tournament. It was the third consecutive season in which the Jumbos lost ten games.

During the off-season, the field hockey/lacrosse coaching position was split, and Tina McDavitt was hired to coach field hockey. Carol Rappoli, who had coached both squads for 19 seasons, remained as the head coach for lacrosse and as a field hockey assistant.

Around the same time, construction began on an all-weather, synthetic turf field located just behind the baseball field opposite Cousens Gym. John Bello, A68, co-founder of the South Beach Beverage Company (SoBe) and an athletics overseer, and his wife, Nancy, J69, made a $1.8 million naming gift for the new field (an anonymous donor has contributed an additional $500,000). The field doubles as a canvas for a “charging” Jumbo, and the unmistakable mascot most likely contributed to Tufts victories.

With this show of support from the university, the team made tremendous strides. The Jumbos won at Wesleyan University, 2–0, in the first round of the league tournament, advancing to the NESCAC semifinals for the first time in four years. The conference title was won by Williams College, a team Tufts defeated 1–0 during the regular season.

“There was a change in attitude and expectation,” McDavitt said. “I expected to win every game, pushed them hard at practice, kept the standard high, and they met it.”

McDavitt came to Tufts from Holy Cross, where she was an assistant coach. She was previously a member of local field-hockey powers in the town of Walpole and at Boston University. She is a member of the USA Field Hockey national indoor squad that is aiming to qualify for the World Cup in 2006.

“Her intensity and love for the game really helped us,” said senior tri-captain Dana Panzer. “Every practice she was out there, loving every minute of it, and it was definitely contagious. From her experience and because of the amazing player she is, she brought so much skill and knowledge of the game.”

Bello Field gave the Jumbos home advantage for the first time. They previously played on the grass in the baseball outfield at Huskins Field, which made for a slower game. Adjusting quickly to the turf, which allowed for more finesse, Tufts won its first four games on the field and was 6–2 overall there.

“The new field gave us more consistency, especially when we had to play on Astroturf,” said junior tri-captain Lea Napolitano, referring to the fact that most schools now play on turf. “It was easier to play on other people’s surfaces with ours being better this year. It’s less a hit-and-run game; there’s more accurate passing and more skill.”

Tufts displayed talent both offensively and defensively. Panzer led a revived offense that scored 32 goals, the most by a Tufts team since 1996. She broke the team’s single-season scoring record with 33 points on 12 goals and nine assists. The Jumbos were also excellent defensively, earning eight shutouts for the team’s best total since 1997.

The combination of coaches McDavitt and Rappoli gave the Jumbos expertise in both areas. McDavitt was an all-star at BU known for her scoring prowess, while Rappoli’s teams at Tufts were always strong defensively. What could have been an awkward situation, with a young coach taking over for a veteran who would become her assistant, instead was a factor in their success. Plus, Rappoli, who had recruited the entire team, was around to enjoy it.

“With Tina coming in, she didn’t really know where we were in the past,” Heller said. “With Carol, she knew how far we had come. When we beat a team this year that we hadn’t beaten last year, or that we never beat, the excitement that we got from her was great because she knew where we had come from.”

The team looks now to move beyond the respect they gained this year and become annual contenders for the conference title.

“As a first-year coach, I had no idea what to expect,” McDavitt said. “Now I can push them even harder. They far exceeded my expectations on how athletic they were. Now I want them to far exceed my expectations of them as field hockey players.”