In the 2008-09 season, Claire Petersen made a solid start to her college basketball career at Catholic University of America.
The Long Island native played a little more than 15 minutes per game for the Cardinals, started three games and shot 50 percent from the floor, averaging four points and two rebounds per game.
However, as she wrapped up her freshman year in the nation’s capital, Petersen realized that off the court, the Cardinals couldn’t get her where she wanted to go.
“I’ve always wanted to be a phys ed teacher,” Petersen said, “but I just didn’t know it at the time.”
With her sights set on physical education and health, Petersen chose to come home, transferring to Adelphi University, just 20 minutes away from her hometown of Wantagh.
“I knew that the school had a good physical education program,” Petersen said, “so it all just fit. Once I contacted Coach Spallina, he called me right back, and I came here.”
The change in schools came with a change in sports, as Petersen, An All-County lacrosse player as well as an All-Conference basketball star at Wantagh High School, returned to the field to join Joe Spallina’s defending NCAA Division II Champion lacrosse team.
It’s safe to say the move paid off: Petersen led the Panthers in scoring in 2010, scoring 47 goals and adding 81 assists in 20 games while leading Adelphi to a repeat as NCAA Champions. She was named the Northeast 10’s Player of the Year, an ECAC Division II First Team All-Star, the IWLCA Attacker of the Year and an IWLCA First-Team All-American.
“She’s a special athlete,” Spallina said. “She does instinctive things that you can’t really tell a kid to do. She’ll look right and pass left. She seems to be one step ahead of the defensive mindset of the opposing team. Just watching her every day in practice, it’s a lot of fun, because the things she does to the defenders, her body positioning, her skill work, the way she’ll break defenders down on both sides, she’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime kids who comes through.”
And, while Petersen may have left the hardwood for the turf, Spallina can see shades of her basketball days in her success with the Panthers, which also relates to her intended future as a teacher and a coach.
“She’s a point guard,” Spallina said. “She’s a point guard as a basketball player, and if you watch our team, she’s the point guard of our team. Obviously, that’s not a position in lacrosse, but any successful offense has a very good ‘point guard.’ If you watch a point guard or a quarterback on any team, they’re natural leaders. So much of the offense goes through her; people tend to gravitate toward her and her mentality.”
Petersen’s combination of leadership and performance has resulted in a rare honor. Petersen is one of only two D-II players named to the 2011 Tewaaraton Award Watch List. Given that the sport’s top individual award has always gone to a player from Division I, Petersen is happy to enjoy the honor and move on.
“It’s a real honor,” Petersen said. “Our team works really hard, so I appreciate our coach putting me up for it. I didn’t see it coming, so I was surprised and happy to hear it, but I’ve still got to play the same way I play.”
Her coach, however, sees it slightly differently.
“Claire is on that list because she belongs on that list,” Spallina said. “This fall, we went and played and got an opportunity to see the best players. Claire is on that list because she is one of the best players in the country, regardless of division. When that list comes out again in a couple of weeks, when they pare it down, she’s still going to be on that list. If she’s not, there’s something wrong.”
For her part, Petersen is just anxious to get back into competition. The No. 1 Panthers opened their season on February 22 with a 21-9 win over Rollins that saw Petersen score five goals and assist on a sixth, but haven’t played a game since, heading into Saturday’s home opener against Philadelphia.
“We’re excited to finally play again,” Petersen said. “It’s not very exciting practicing for so long every day without a game for two weeks, but we’re ready to go.”
It will be the first of at least seven games the Panthers will play at home this spring, and they are hoping to play several more. The NCAA Division II and Division III Championships will take place on Adelphi’s Motamed Field on May 21 and 22, giving Petersen and her teammates (most of whom grew up on Long Island) the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd their third straight national championship.
“It’s great,” Petersen said, “because we get to practice on the championship field during the year, and it’s even more motivation.”
And, after pouring that motivation into practice for the last two weeks, Claire Petersen and her Adelphi teammates are ready to unleash it on their opponents, as they get to work on bringing home a third straight NCAA Championship.