Walking into a women’s basketball
game last winter, then-freshman Beth Riley was greeted warmly by
her field hockey teammates and friends. Hugs, handshakes, high
fives — there was nothing unusual about these exchanges, but
when senior goalkeeper Molly Maloney put her arm around
Riley’s shoulder, it was a sign that the two competitors have
overcome the difficulties friends encounter when competing for a
job.

Field Hockey

Athletes that are competing for a position alienate each other.
They refuse to speak to each other or help each other, and their
hostility has a negative effect on team chemistry.

With two talented goalkeepers on her roster, Michigan coach
Marcia Pankratz has not always known what to expect. Instead of
finding a goalkeeper controversy, Pankratz discovered a healthy and
competitive relationship between two players whose maturity extends
far beyond their years.

 

Reluctant Beginnings

Maloney’s adventures in field hockey began in sixth grade
when her mother sent her to a camp at Lake Forest High School in
Chicago’s suburbs. Reluctant to play a sport she had never
heard of, Maloney begrudgingly began playing in the field. After
struggling for several days, she jumped on the opportunity to play
goalkeeper.

“The coach at the camp asked if anyone wanted to play
goalie,” Maloney said. “And I was like,
‘I’ll do anything to not have to run around with that
stupid stick in my hand!’ ”

Several years later and 700 miles away in Palmyra, Penn.,
another field hockey coach found himself in a similar predicament.
When he asked if anyone was interested in the goalkeeper’s
job, Riley’s good friend, a midfielder, raised her hand.

“The coach was like, ‘Megan, do you want to play
goalkeeper?’ ” Riley said. “She was like,
‘No, but Beth will,’ totally volunteering me to play. I
had no idea what I was doing. And of course you have these huge
pads, and I didn’t know what to do.”

So rather than seeking the goal as a safe haven like Maloney
did, Riley was forced into the position by friends. Riley had
played goalkeeper in soccer, so her friends decided goalkeeper in
field hockey would be a good fit. Although she struggled with the
adjustment of wearing the goalkeeper’s pads, it only took a
week of preseason practice for her to fall in love with the
position and the sport.

Back in Illinois, Maloney continued playing field hockey out of
necessity. Playing basketball and softball filled her winter and
spring seasons, but she was in need of a fall sport to complete her
year-round athletic calendar.

“When I got to high school, I didn’t have a fall
sport because I wasn’t tall enough to play volleyball, and I
wasn’t good enough to play tennis,” Maloney said.
“I thought, ‘All right, let’s give field hockey a
shot.’ And things just worked well from there.”

Since stumbling into field hockey, both goalkeepers enjoyed
great success. After long and stressful recruiting processes, both
decided on Michigan.

 

A Star in the Making

Maloney joined the Wolverines in the fall of 2000. She
immediately saw playing time, trading starts with then-junior
Maureen Tasch. Winning her first seven starts before losing to No.
1 Old Dominion, Maloney went 7-1 in her freshman year, posting a
1.43 goals-against average. Pankratz recognized Maloney’s
potential and decided to redshirt her during her sophomore
year.

The 2001 season, Maloney’s redshirt year, was a special
year for Michigan. The Wolverines won the national championship,
becoming the first women’s sports team to do so in school
history. Though she did not see game action, the lessons Maloney
took from her experiences with the championship team would stick
with her.

“The reason that we won was because we worked hard, and it
paid off,” Maloney said. “That was why we won —
we never quit.”

Tasch graduated, and the starting job was Maloney’s for
the taking. The sophomore took a similar attitude to practice day
in and day out. Her ever-present tenacity has helped the Wolverines
improve as a team every season since.

Former teammate and current undergraduate assistant coach April
Fronzoni remembers Maloney never giving an inch.

“In practice I loved going up against (Maloney) because
she always brought her A-game,” Fronzoni said.
“I’m like, ‘Molly! What is the deal? Can’t
you let a couple of them go in and make me feel good?’

In her sophomore season, Maloney’s work ethic helped the
Wolverines win a Big Ten title. Maloney set a school record,
winning 18 games. In conference play, she just two goals in six
contests and led the league in shutouts.

After enjoying such success, Maloney looked set in her position
as a starter, but as the 2003 season came around, she found herself
again competing for the job — this time with Riley, a true
freshman.

 

Changing of the Guard

Arriving at Michigan, Riley was swamped with advice about how to
improve her play. The transition from high school field hockey to
the college game can be an imposing task. The pace of play
increases significantly, and Riley was forced to improve her
reaction times.

Former assistant coach Ashley Reichenbach, who hails from
Riley’s hometown, played a big part in the freshman’s
transition, helping to make Ann Arbor her second home. Reichenbach,
a former Michigan defender, helped Pankratz and assistant coach
Nancy Cox bring Riley’s game to a collegiate level by
challenging her mental toughness.

“(Cox, Pankratz and Reichenbach) really helped me change
the way I played the game,” Riley said. “I had to make
a lot of mental changes, and become mentally tougher. As (Cox)
would say, I had to become a student of the game.”

On the practice field, one of Riley’s biggest influences
came from a surprise source. Instead of shunning Riley and denying
the possibility that her days as starter were limited, Maloney
instead began passing on her knowledge to her younger
counterpart.

“I learned a lot from (Maloney) because she had already
been through it many times,” Riley said. “We meshed
right away. She helped me a lot.”

The two goalkeepers shared time at the beginning of the year.
And when Riley’s game was up to speed, she went on to have an
incredible freshman campaign, beginning with a shutout against Ohio
University in her first start.

By the end of the year, Riley had set a new school record with a
0.82 goals-against average, and had compiled a 15-3 record. Riley
helped the Wolverines to the national semifinal and emerged as the
Wolverines’ regular starter.

As Riley’s playing time increased, Maloney found herself
on the sidelines more often. Maloney struggled with the realization
that her playing time would be limited, but began to see that her
role as a team leader was as important as her role as a
goalkeeper.

 

Leader of the Pack

All the players are supportive of each other, but
Maloney’s voice often rings higher than her teammates. Before
and during games, Maloney’s teammates recognize that she
always has a word of encouragement.

“She is always the first one to encourage us, to cheer for
us, to make sure that we’re all set as far as ready for the
game,” Riley said. “If we need a little boost of
confidence, she’s always the first person to take care of
that.”

Maloney has undergone a difficult transition.

“It’s tough,” Maloney said. “I have
trouble when people walk faster than I do. I am so competitive.
Going from a role being the big cheese, going from the big games to
watching the big games is hard.”

Despite her disappointment with her new role, Maloney is taking
advantage of her situation to grow as a person.

“I probably learn more about myself when I am on the
sidelines than when I am playing in the big games,” Maloney
said. “My role on this team is something different than I
want it to be, but it is important. If my role is simply making
(Riley) better, and making her work hard, then that’s my role
on this team. And it is important.”

Away from the field, people close to Maloney see how hardships
she as endured as a player have helped her mature. Maloney’s
mother, Lorraine, feels that the tough times her daughter has
endured as a goalkeeper have changed Molly for the better.

“She has had to accept hardships,” Lorraine Maloney
said. “She has been courageous through all of them. She has
learned how to get along with people. It has made her more patient
and tolerant.”

 

Friendly Competitors

Maloney’s grace in handling a difficult situation has been
a blessing for the Wolverines. Instead of shutting herself out,
Maloney has become a valuable resource for Pankratz and Riley.

“She’s been a wonderful leader for us,”
Pankratz said. “She has great character and she has been a
wonderful teammate for five years now.”

Maloney’s competitive edge has helped to accelerate
Riley’s career, and her positive attitude helps Riley get
through tough practices

“We really feed off of each other,” Riley said.
“If one of us is having a bad day, the other one will try and
get them psyched up, be like, ‘Shake it off, start over,
you’ll be fine.’ When we’re having a good day, we
have so much fun together.”

Pankratz also sees their competitive edge as a safeguard against
complacency. Because they are both so talented, the starting job is
never totally secure. Riley has started the majority of games, but
Maloney earned a start earlier this season against Maine. Because
they both understand that they must earn their starts, Riley and
Maloney continue to work hard every practice.

“They are both competitors,” Pankratz said.
“They both want to play because they love the game. That goes
without saying. Nobody would be on our team if they didn’t
want to play and be competitive.”

While neither lets up in practice, they both respect
Pankratz’s decisions on playing time. Being such team players
has helped maintain the friendly atmosphere that pervades the
entire program.

“They know that they are a team effort back there, and
that the success of either one of them affects everybody, including
themselves,” Pankratz said. “They are genuinely both
very unselfish, and are wonderful teammates, are very mature, and
put the team first, and know that that is more important than
anything.”

 

Click here to view this feature as it appears in print:


“http://www.michigandaily.com/vnews/display.v/ART/4161315c26092”>October
4: A Keeper of a Friendship

Page Design by Ellen McGarrity

Photos by: Ali Olsen, Joel Friedman, Ryan Weiner and David
Tuman

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