Nov. 22, 2009

By Roger van der Horst
Special to

WINSTON-SALEM — After 29 seasons and six Division I national championships — the sixth won on Sunday — North Carolina field-hockey coach Karen Shelton understands that it would be natural to think of retiring while she's on top. But she gave no indication following UNC's title-game victory that she's ready.

”I certainly want to go out on a national championship. I'm not sure it's this year,” said Shelton, 52. "A couple of years ago, I would have said, ‘I want to win one more.’ And then I won one more, and it's like, ‘Well, I'm not really ready to quit yet.’”

"I do enjoy it, and I think I'm good at it. I'm staying progressive with the game. ... I love the job."

THUMBS UP TO A NEW RULE: As was evident at times during UNC's 3-2 championship victory over previously unbeaten Maryland, the new "self-start" rule has speeded up the game.

Implemented by the International Hockey Federation, the rule allows a player to take the ball herself on a free hit rather than having to pass it. Essentially, the player can pass the ball to herself. (A free hit is given to a team that has been fouled — for example, obstructed from playing the ball.)

"It's beautiful," said host Wake Forest coach Jennifer Averill Sunday of the self-start rule. "It's made the game even more appealing as a spectator sport. The fluidity of the game is so much better. ... It's fast-breaking. It adds a huge element of speed to the game."

"Every year, field hockey tries to do a little something to make itself a little more fan-friendly and a little faster," said Nancy Lyons, an associate athletics director at Boston University and chairwoman of the Division I Field Hockey Committee.

LOOKING TO 2010: Averill is trying to get her team back to the final four, but her own conference isn't making it easy. The ACC's strength goes beyond the three semifinal teams — Maryland, UNC and Virginia.

"Technically and tactically, Boston College just gets stronger every year," Averill said. "Duke, there's been talk about 'what happened to them this year?' They're young. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw six ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament next year."

BIG TEN STRONG, TOO: Averill also expects the Big Ten to be strong again

Michigan State, which lost to Virginia in overtime in the second round, "is notorious for being a strong, charged squad," Averill said. "You always have your Iowas, and Indiana back in the tournament again. Michigan, I think, is going to be resurrected with Marcia Pankratz at the helm. Char Morett (of Penn State) had a tough year, but she'll be back."

NAME GAME: Danielle Forword's game-winning goal for UNC with 11 seconds left Sunday was set up by a pass from a Caitlin (Van Sickle) to a Katelyn (Falgowski), which proves, if nothing else, that variations of the name seem to be popular with field-hockey families.

The 2009 final four brought together the aforementioned Caitlin and Katelyn, as well as two Kaitlyns, one Kaitlin and four Katies.

Cindy Falgowski, whose daughter is UNC's Katelyn, said she and her husband didn't want any mistake about how the name should be shortened.

"We wanted Kate, and so we spell it K-A-T-E," her mother said. "We called her 'Kate' and 'Katie' when she was younger. We didn't want her to be called 'Cat'."

There were no NCAA restrictions on Kates, in whatever form.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: The 2009 all-tournament team, as selected by members of the Division I Field Hockey committee:

Midfielder/back Michelle Vittesse and midfielder Paige Selenski of Virginia; Princeton midfielders and sisters Katie and Julia Reinprecht; forwards Katie O'Donnell and Nicole Muracco and midfielder/back Brianna Davies of Maryland; and forwards Danielle Forword, midfielders Katelyn Falgowski and Illse Davids, and goalkeeper Jackie Kintzer of North Carolina.

ONE MORE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE: After reading on that Emmaus (Penn.) High School had sent four players to the final four — one of them, Christina Bortz of Princeton, referred to Emmaus as "THE center of field hockey in Pennsylvania" — Dave Konopki of The Times Leader newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. pointed out that the smaller Dallas (Penn.) school district had produced final four players Alyssa Pyros of Princeton, Paige Selenski and Tara Puffenberger of Virginia, while Traci  Ragukas of Virginia went to Lake Lehman High, within three miles of Dallas.