Nov. 4, 2009
By Larry Watts
Talk about making a grand entrance.
When head coach Tracey Fuchs and associate head coach Carla Tagliente walked in the door in mid-January to turn the Northwestern University field hockey program around, it didn't take long for them to make a quick first impression. Less than one month later, they had landed one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten this season.
Through Tagliente's international connections, a friend who was coaching a club team in Perth, Australia told her about Chelsea Armstrong, a defensive dynamo who had been a member of three Western Australia national teams since her Under-15 days. It didn't take long for Tagliente to offer Armstrong a scholarship.
But there was one little problem.
"I said no at first," says Armstrong. "My initial reaction was it would be a bit scary; it seemed like too big of a move. But after talking to my parents and thinking about it for a week, I decided it would be too big of an opportunity to pass up. At the time, I was just going through the motions and there really wasn't anything holding me back."
So Armstrong took the long plane ride by herself to visit Northwestern on an official visit at the beginning of February. By the time she left, not only had she seen snow for the first time in her life, but she also was a Wildcat.
"The weather was going to be a big adjustment, at the moment it still is as it's starting to get a little cold for me now," she says. "Other than that, the girls have all been very helpful in getting me set up. It's all been very exciting.
"I was actually very excited to see the snow even though the other girls told me the novelty would soon wear off. Like any crazy Australian, I had to go out and make a snow angel even though I only had jeans and a sweater. Everyone back home would have been disappointed in me if I hadn't done that. It was more like a mud angel because there really wasn't that much snow."
Although she had played defense nearly all her life, it didn't take the Northwestern coaching long to recognize the fact Armstrong had a more powerful stroke than anyone else on her team. Within a couple of scrimmages, she suddenly found herself lining up at the midfield.
"It just happened one day during a scrimmage," Armstrong says of her position switch. "I hadn't scored a goal in years. They have moved me back on defense a little in the past few matches, usually when we get the lead."
Armstrong scored both goals in the Wildcats' 2-1 overtime victory over Boston University during the season opener and she hasn't stopped since. She is the Big Ten's overwhelming leader in points (56) and goals (22), and her 2.95 points per game rank sixth nationally.
"To have the amount (of goals) I have now is pretty amazing, but I'm reluctant to take the credit because I feel like I'm feeding off all the hard work the other girls have been putting in," says Armstrong, who is a sophomore in eligibility because she spent one year at the University of Western Australia. "I am starting to get more attention from the defense now, especially in the Big Ten, but I really like the challenge.
"The hockey in the States seems to be at the same high level I was playing at on the national teams in Australia. But this overtime business is interesting. In Australia, if the score is tied at the end of the day, we just pack our bags and go home. Here, it's a pretty exciting way to finish the game.
"We have three wins in OT now," she added. "It's an extreme adrenaline rush, especially if you get the goal to win."
Armstrong traces her field hockey genes back to going and watching her mother play with club teams. She actually played on the same team with her mother between the ages of 12-15.
"My mother was in her mid-30s at the time," she says. "She still plays in a Wednesday night veterans league back in Perth."
Her parents have already made one three-week trip to Evanston to watch their daughter play for Northwestern.
"They got a chance to look around and were pretty impressed by what Northwestern has to offer," the economics major says. "They loved their trip here and there's no doubt they will be back at some point."
Although she has found little difference in the food between the two countries, Armstrong confesses she has come up with one slight addiction.
"Butterfingers!" she says with a laugh. "We don't have those back in Australia. I don't know how I have gone 19 years of my life without one. I try to eat very healthy and not eat much candy, but I am going to have to introduce Butterfingers to the people back in Australia. I'm sure they will be a big hit."
Armstrong is looking forward to heading back to Australia during the holidays, when it will be summer in her country.
"I'll be going back to warm weather while it will be freezing over here," she says. "Some people have told me it gets down to minus-10 degrees here in the winter. I've never experienced anything like that before, so it would be a bit of a challenge for me. I think I'll be leaving at the right time."
This crazy Aussie is in for a rude awakening when she returns to Chicago in January.