United They Play: Former Big Ten Field Hockey Stars Reunite for Country
Sept. 19, 2006
Five former Big Ten student-athletes have shed their Indiana Crimson, Iowa Black and Michigan Maize to don the colors of the Red, White and Blue. Together as teammates, these former conference rivals will represent our country on the USA Field Hockey national team at the World Cup, which will be held Sept. 27 through Oct. 8 in Madrid, Spain. Indiana's Kayla Bashore, Iowa's Sarah Dawson and Barb Weinberg and Michigan's April Fronzoni and Kristie Gannon have reunited to make up an impressive Big Ten contingent that is now set to proudly represent the United States.
For three schools that are separated by four states, there is a significant amount of commonality amongst them. From 2001-03, these five elite athletes stepped out onto the turf together but matched up on opposite sides of the center line. On at least one occasion a season, forwards Dawson and Fronzoni would have been found nose-to-nose at the front of the line, while Bashore and Gannon's paths would cross at the midfield position. It is safe to say that Weinberg blocked one of these four players' shots in goal at one point during her career.
The field hockey turf has traditionally been a source of fierce competition in the conference but this was especially so in the years of 2002 and 2003 when all five standouts took the field together. In those back-to-back years, four of the five managed to earn first-team All Big Ten honors while the other garnered second-team accolades.
Indiana's Bashore is the most recent Big Ten addition to the U.S. team after she tallied a season of Hoosier firsts in 2005. She became the first IU standout to be named to the national team after earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors and was a semifinalist for the Honda National Player of the Year Award. She helped Indiana achieve its first NCAA Tournament appearance as the Hoosiers advanced as far as the Elite Eight and ended the year with their winningest season ever at 17-5. The midfielder earned first-team NFHCA All-America laurels in 2005 and was also a second-team honoree in 2003 in addition to being named to four All-Big Ten teams. She was awarded the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship during her senior year.
Bashore could not be happier than where she is right now. Playing field hockey with her former rivals and traveling the world has proven to be a great combination.
"Qualifying in Rome for the World Cup was awesome. I'm experiencing a great opportunity," exclaimed Bashore. "I don't know when I would ever get a chance to do something like this ever again. Playing in the Big Ten gave me the opportunity to compete against some of the best competition in the country, including my U.S. teammates now that I competed against in college. We've become a tight knit group since we joined the national team together."
Over the years, Iowa has sent several players into international competition. This season, two former Hawkeyes, who used to jump on a bus in Iowa City and travel eight hours to play a game, will board a plane in a U.S. uniform and fly to Spain to take on some of the best competition in the world. Just as they did in college, Dawson and Weinberg will take the field in one fashion, together.
Dawson, who spent her career attacking the opposition's defense, tallying 29 goals, 16 assists and 78 points over her four years as a Hawkeye, earned first-team All-America and All-Big Ten honors throughout her career. She helped Iowa capture the 2004 regular season championship, a title that was shared with Michigan and Michigan State after a three-way tie. Ironically that was the only year that the pair did not have to face any of their future U.S. team members.
For Dawson, patriotism is simply in the bloodlines. Her older sister Natalie, a former Hawkeye who earned All-Big Ten and All-America accolades in 2000, was also a member of the U.S. national team. Younger sister Rachel, who currently plays at North Carolina, has suited up in the U.S. uniform, alongside Sarah, on this year's national team.
For four years, Dawson and Weinberg had the opportunity to play with each other everyday after Weinberg took a redshirt season as a freshman, putting her in the same eligibility class as Dawson. Neither one would have had it any other way.
"I love that Barb and I are still teammates," Dawson said. "I wouldn't have survived without her."
Almost as if their minds were synced, Weinberg echoed Dawson's comments.
"We had a great friendship both on and off the field and that has continued on national team. It's very comforting," said Weinberg. "Her work ethic motivates me everyday. Working hard day in and day out is what we learned at Iowa and that is what we bring to the U.S. team together."
A three-time first-team All-Big Ten honoree, Weinberg compiled career stats of 373 saves, 16 shutouts and 40 wins. She earned first-team All-America status as a senior while garnering second-team laurels in 2003.
Mirroring the dynamic of the Iowa duo, Michigan also boasts a dominant pair in Fronzoni and Gannon.
Fronzoni, who played in all 90 games of her career, remains U-M's all-time leader with 68 career goals and 155 points. The three-time All-American was named Big Ten Athlete of the Year in 2002 and earned back-to-back Offensive Player of the Year laurels in 2002 and 2003. A four-time All-Big Ten honoree, she was a member of Michigan's 2001 national championship team and was named a finalist for the Honda Award in both her junior and senior years.
The 2006 campaign marks her third year representing the U.S. national team and her former Wolverine teammate Gannon has been alongside her all the way. The pair competed together in Ann Arbor from 2000-03 and wasted no time making the transition to the national level, reuniting after spending only a year apart. Fronzoni played for the U.S. Under-23 squad in 2003 while Gannon earned a spot on the national team. Just as Dawson and Weinberg didn't miss a step in transitioning from the collegiate field to the national level together, nether did Fronzoni and Gannon.
"I have really enjoyed playing with her in college and on the national team," Fronzoni said. "In college we were the cream of the crop but there are different team dynamics on the U.S. squad. It's been great to have her by my side through the transition. I love playing with her."
As a Wolverine, Gannon was a four-time All-Conference selection in addition to earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2000 and Player of the Year accolades as a senior in 2003. After helping guide Michigan to the 2001 NCAA title, she was named to two All-America first teams in her final two seasons at U-M.
Just as Dawson did, Gannon followed the footsteps of her older sister Kelli in the field hockey world but the difference was that the Gannon sisters were able to play together during the 2000 season while the Dawsons missed each other by one year.
Kelli drew the blueprint for younger sister Kristie as she earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1997 and Offensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2000. Kelli was a member of the national team from 2001-04 which allowed the sisters to reunite once again as Kristi has been a member of the U.S. squad since 2003.
The Big Ten coincidences in field hockey go beyond the player connection. The coaching staffs throughout the conference are just as involved and share many ties with each other and the USA Field Hockey program.
The national team's assistant coach is also the associate head coach at Michigan. Tracey Fuchs, who coached against Bashore, Dawson and Weinberg, mentored Fronzoni and Gannon for four years and played with both former Wolverines on the 2004 U.S. squad.
"Tracey had a huge impact and still does on my career" said Fronzoni. "She was my role model before I began playing in college and has impacted and shaped where I have gone with field hockey. It was fun playing with her on the national team in 2004. She is very helpful and knowledgeable and I am glad that I have had the opportunity play for and with her."
Fuchs is joined on the Michigan sidelines this season with Gannon who is serving as U-M's volunteer assistant coach. That pair also welcomed a new face to the Maize and Blue in former Iowa assistant Carla Tagliente, who coached Dawson and Weinberg for two seasons (2003-04).
"All of my coaches were so supportive of my decision to pursue a spot on the national team but Carla (Tagliente) really helped prepare me for the transition," Dawson said. "We played similar positions and she was always someone I could turn to for advice."
While at Iowa, Dawson and Weinberg played for three coaches who have ties to the U.S. national team. Head coach Tracey Griesbaum was an assistant in 2000 and coached Tagliente who was a member of the U.S. squad from 2000-03. Assistant coach Lisa Cellucci is a former Iowa Hawkeye who played for the 1999 national team.
"Lisa taught me everything there is to know about being a goalie and encouraged me to make the move to the national level. She has given me a great base to continue my career," Weinberg said.
Through the guidance of tenured coaches, these five former Big Ten student-athletes face an opportunity of a lifetime. They will always wear the Crimson, Black and Maize, but three other colors now take importance.
A Hoosier, a pair of Hawkeyes, and two Wolverines have now reunited to unite.
And come late-September in Madrid, "united" they will play.