Crossing the Line
Sept. 10, 2010
By Larry Watts
Jena Cacciatore admits she will have mixed emotions when Penn State comes to the Horseshoe Nov. 13 for its football showdown with Ohio State. The Allentown, Pa. grew up on Nittany Lions football and Cacciatore plans to be there -- decked out in scarlet and gray.
The only thing that could prevent the senior from attending the game would be a first round battle in the NCAA field hockey tournament. And with a 3-1 start to the 2010 season along with a No. 12 national ranking, a conflict in her schedule is indeed a possibility.
"For me, the Penn State-Ohio State football game makes my mind go crazy," Cacciatore says with a laugh. "I still root for Penn State football. But when it comes to that game, I'll be standing there wearing red and I'll be getting phone calls from my friends telling me what a traitor I have become. It's all in good fun."
Since there are eight players from Pennsylvania on Ohio State's field hockey team, Cacciatore probably isn't alone with her mixed emotions. Even the foreign players (seven) on the Buckeye roster outnumber the Ohio-bred players (four) as head coach Anne Wilkinson has mined one of the nation's hotbeds for field hockey to bring the riches to Columbus.
"Pennsylvania is such a gold mine for field hockey," Cacciatore says. "The girls (in Pennsylvania) are more experienced because of the club teams and having year-round programs. From what I have seen in Columbus, I don't feel like the girls around here have as many opportunities as we have. But even with such a mix of players, we have such a close-knit team."
Cacciatore, who grew up on soccer and softball, estimates the first time she had a stick in her hands was in sixth grade. "Even now that is late," she says. "In (Parkland) high school, we would be working clinics and camps with girls in first and second grade. Their sticks were about as big as my forearm!"
The taste of coaching younger players, both at Parkland and Ohio State, has given Cacciatore a little bit of the coaching bug.
"I had never thought of it as a career," the communication major says. "I was part of the Futures program while I was in high school and I have gone back to help out with some of the older players. It's something I really have enjoyed."
However, Cacciatore is still hoping her area of study can land her an internship with a professional team after her season, preferably with the Columbus Blue Jackets or Clippers.
"I'm a big sports person," she says. "Hopefully, I can land something that peaks my interest with sports, perhaps a marketing job with a team or a sports company. I grew up a (Philadelphia) Flyers fan, but I could easily be turned into a Blue Jackets fan. I haven't really figured much out yet though because I have been so focused on this field hockey season."
Cacciatore's focus is certainly paying dividends early for the Buckeyes. Coming off a career-high 25 points as a junior, the 5-foot-4 center-forward has already scored four goals (eight points) in the Buckeyes' first four matches.
The greatest changes in her game since arriving in Columbus have come through consistency and physical development.
"The biggest change coming from high school is making the adjustment from playing on grass to playing on turf," she says. "It's a world of difference between the two surfaces. Turf is so much faster and you don't have all those skips and hops due to divots in the field. Because the ball stays on the turf so much longer, you have to learn to play a lot lower, plus the game is so much faster.
"Freshman year was an emotional rollercoaster for me. I'm such a competitive person and, if I didn't play a perfect game, I was very hard on myself. It was a matter of growing and learning. The seniors on that team did a great job of helping me out."
After that freshman season, when she played in all 18 games with 12 starts, Cacciatore became a workaholic when it came to conditioning and the weight room.
"My fitness wasn't where it should have been my freshman year," she says. "I did a lot of squats in the weight room during the offseason. This past summer I stayed in Columbus to work with my lifting coach and did a lot of speed and agility work on the football field."
Her decision to come to Ohio State was not one Cacciatore took lightly because she had several offers from schools on the east coast.
"I knew what I wanted," she says. "I wanted to come to a school and make an impact right away. One of the questions I asked each coach was if I was going to play right away as a freshman. There were both good and bad responses, but Ohio State showed full confidence in me and I knew I wanted to become a Buckeye. Until then, the toughest decision in my life had been giving up soccer to play softball in high school."
One school that really didn't show great interest was Penn State. "To be honest I don't think I talked to their coach more than once," she says. "There was no offer on the table. But I have to admit, I do have a little extra pep in my step when I play them."
Because Pennsylvania has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to field hockey, Cacciatore sees many familiar faces during her travels throughout the Big Ten.
"I think every team has someone from my district or someone I played with on a club team," she says. "If the game isn't competitive enough, it puts it on more of a personal level for me. You have that much more motivation to beat the other team. Then after the game it's always friendly, which I really like."
When her studies are completed and she heads back home to Pennsylvania, there will be no questioning Cacciatore's loyalty.
"To be a Buckeye, it's hard to describe," she says. "Going out on the street and seeing your colors on hundreds of thousands of fans on game days is pure enjoyment. You feel it in your bones, a sense of loving and loyalty. I'm starting to appreciate it now that I call myself a senior.
"I never saw myself becoming such a fan of something I didn't grow up with. I love being a Buckeye, being part of the athletics and calling this home. I haven't thought much about leaving as a senior, but I know it's going to be heartbreak for me.
"I have loved everything about this," she added. "You dread getting up for 6 a.m. workouts and putting yourself through so much pain and torture, but it is something I truly love. I enjoy working hard, taking steps to improve and am satisfied with victory. I will leave here with no regrets."