Nelson hopes field hockey career isn’t over yet


Staff Writer

TIM WINN Diana Nelson, of Old Bridge, has made quite a name for herself as a goalie for the Northeastern University field hockey team, earning All-American status this past seasonTIM WINN Diana Nelson, of Old Bridge, has made quite a name for herself as a goalie for the Northeastern University field hockey team, earning All-American status this past season If the holidays and turn-of-the-calendar are indeed a time for some to reflect on the just-completed year, then Diana Nelson had a lot to smile about as she looked back on 2004.

And she may even have more to smile about to in 2005.

The 22-year-old field hockey goalie from Old Bridge capped off an outstanding collegiate career at Northeastern University in Boston with a brilliant final season for the Huskies. Nelson started every game in goal as she helped lead the team to an 18-4 record, a No. 6 national ranking, a fourth straight America East Conference championship, and a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

What’s more, she was ranked fourth nationally with an .820 save percentage, while her 1.00 goals-against average was sixth-best in the country.

But the highlight of the season didn’t come until after her collegiate career was actually over and Nelson found out she was named to the All-American team selected by

Her field hockey days may not even be over yet, either. Nelson left Thursday for Virginia Beach to attend the U.S. National Team tryouts to be held from Friday to Monday.

“It’s a tryout to make the U.S. National residency team, which is basically the U.S. Olympic team,” Nelson said the other night. “If you make the team you relocate in Virginia Beach and train year-round. The qualifying games to make the Olympics begin in July.”

Nelson knows she’s probably a long shot to make the team (“They already have one goalie returning so there’s only room for one more,” she said), but just getting this far is a testament to someone who wasn’t even heavily recruited out of Old Bridge High School where she was a senior captain, team MVP and All-Greater Middlesex Conference in 1999.

So what attracted a nationally known program like Northeastern to her?

“I thought Diana was one of those kids who wanted to make it and wanted to be successful. That’s what I liked about her,” veteran head coach Cheryl Murtagh, who just completed her 20th season, said. “She was not heavily recruited, but I think that’s because not many people knew about her. That’s the kind of player we get at Northeastern.”

Nelson had a few other attributes in goal that caught Murtagh’s attention, too.

“She was extremely quick and wasn’t afraid to dive to make a save,” Murtagh recalled. “Some goalies have perfect technique, but can’t make a save. Diana was what I like to call a groveler, someone who was always on the ground and would do whatever she had to to keep the ball out of the goal.”

Which she did quite effectively, as her 18 career shutouts would attest. But Nelson’s collegiate career was a work in progress. After graduating from Old Bridge in 2000, she red-shirted her freshman year at Northeastern.

The following season, she played all of 10 minutes the entire season, stopping all three shots she faced in an 8-0 win over Towson. Her sophomore season, Nelson got in four games including one start, a 4-0 win over Boston College, which was ranked No. 13 in the country at the time.

Finally, by her junior season in 2003, Nelson was anointed the Huskies’ starting goalie and she started all 45 games the last two seasons.

“When I came in, there were two girls in front of me and I was the third goalie,” she said. “I waited three years [including her red-shirt season] and by my fourth year I finally got my chance to start. It was kind of scary at first, but it was exciting at the same time.”

Nelson wasted no time making an immediate impact as she recorded nine shutouts for the 17-6 Huskies and made the American East all-tournament team as she helped Northeastern win a third straight crown.

“It was definitely different than when I played in high school,” Nelson, who had a .920 save percentage as a senior at Old Bridge, noted. “My team at Old Bridge had only been around five or six years, so we weren’t one of the better teams and I faced a lot of shots.

“But then at Northeastern, I went to more of a winning program. To be on the other side of wins and losses was great.”

As a senior this past fall, Nelson picked up right where she left off, recording eight more shutouts, including five straight at one point as she went over 350 minutes without giving up a goal.

“I just tried to play my best,” she said. “I also had 10 players in front of me who always played their best. Without them I wouldn’t have any shutouts.”

She had some big ones along the way, too. Like a 1-0 win on Oct. 17 over nationally ranked UConn, the same team that knocked Northeastern out of last year’s NCAA tournament with a 2-1 loss in the first round.

“That was probably one of my best games in my career,” Nelson said.

She finished with 11 saves in that game, which was a career high until she recorded 12 saves exactly one week later in a 2-0 loss to Boston University. Two weeks later, the Huskies avenged that loss with a 2-0 win over BU in the American East championship game for their fourth straight league title.

“I think the first game we played them we were very overconfident and I don’t think we played to our potential,” Nelson, who made the all-tournament team again, said. “But we knew going into the championship game it could be our last game if we didn’t win, and we didn’t want that.”

Instead, the Huskies won and advanced to the NCAA tournament where it faced UConn again in the first round. This time, Northeastern reversed the tables with a thrilling 2-1 overtime win that went to a second set of penalty strokes.

“They knocked us out of the tournament last year, so it was nice to take them out this year and get revenge,” Nelson said.

That win earned Northeastern a second-round date with Wake Forest, the eventual NCAA champions, who beat the Huskies 4-2 in the Elite Eight.

“It was disappointing,” Nelson said, “but if you got to lose, you might as well lose to the team that ends up winning it all.”

Nelson was named to the All-Region team, and shortly after the season ended she found out she was named an All-American.

“That was a nice surprise,” she said. “It’s very hard for goalies to be recognized so I really wasn’t expecting it.”

Not bad for someone who didn’t even begin playing field hockey until her freshman year in high school.

“I had always played soccer growing up,” Nelson explained. “I always wanted to play goalie, but my coaches wouldn’t let me. They told me I was too fast and should be playing up front or at midfield where the ball was.

“Then when I got to high school, the coach of the field hockey team was my gym teacher in middle school and she told me they needed a goalie on the JV team. So when the opportunity came, I went for it.”

Diana Nelson has been a field hockey goalie ever since. She thought that loss to Wake Forest finally marked the end of her career, but a few days later came the invitation to try out for the national team.

“I thought that was my last game, but now I have a chance to push my career a little further,” she said. “I don’t know how I’ll do. I’m just going to go down there and do my best. My ability got me this far, so hopefully it will let me go a little farther.”

Who knows, maybe 2005 will be even better than 2004.