Jim Brown. Ernie Davis. Floyd Little. Derrick Coleman. Lydia Fowler.
Yup. That’s right. Like some of Syracuse University’s greatest athletes, Fowler is wearing jersey No. 44 for the Orange and couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I’m a huge Syracuse fan,” the field hockey player, a graduate of Schuylerville High School, said Friday after practice. “When they gave me No. 44, I asked, ‘Are you sure?’ Some people say it’s just a number, but it’s so much more than a number. Every time I put the jersey on, I tear up.”
While the number is synonymous with greatness at the university, Fowler will set no records donning it. She may never even get in a game for one of the nation’s elite programs. That matters little to the 21-year-old senior who never had such thoughts when she headed to Syracuse to study mechanical engineering.
“Every summer I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll try to walk on,’ but I never pulled the trigger,” Fowler said. “Club is two times a week and some Saturdays. I was OK with that and working on my degree.”
Fowler was working out with the Syracuse club field hockey team when the Orange came calling. Head coach Ange Bradley’s defending NCAA champions were down a goalkeeper and needed another for the second half of the season.
Fowler never saw the invite coming.
“I was at one of my practices with the club team when we noticed someone was watching. We recognized her from the varsity team,” Fowler said. “She came over and said, ‘Hi, I’m Tara [Zollinger]. I’m an assistant coach for Syracuse. One of our backup goalies decided not to stick with it and we’re looking for a goalie.’ I tried to keep my composure.
“They asked me to join the team on a Tuesday. I went to my first practice the Friday before the [Sept. 18] Wake Forest game. Since then, it’s been an absolute, incredible whirlwind.”
Schuylerville field hockey coach Erin Lloyd got a text from Fowler the day after she was asked to join the Orange.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better kid,” Lloyd said. “It’s one of those adages that good things happen to good people.
“I know she can handle it. She’s mature enough, and she’s got her academics in line.”
Fowler’s closest connection with the Syracuse varsity team had been as a ball collector during home games.
“I’ve been idolizing them,” Fowler said. “Now I hang out with them. It was kind of a shell shock, especially the first couple of practices.”
Fowler plays an important role as a backup to senior netminder Regan Spencer.
“Most practices, you need someone else in cage,” she said. “It gives her a break. You don’t want your starting goalie to get burned out. When we’re working on shooting or defending or have game situations, I’m there to help out.”
Fowler’s background in the game is different than most goalkeepers at the Division I level. She began playing her sophomore year with the Schuylerville junior varsity, then spent two years with the Black Horses’ varsity while also competing with the ADK club.
“I played soccer my entire life. My friends were saying, ‘Try it. Try it,’ ” Fowler said. “I show up the first day my sophomore year and it’s, ‘How do you hold a stick?’ ”
A quick-learner with good size (she’s 5-foot-8) and athleticism, Fowler twice made the Wasaren League all-star team, and for three-plus years was a mainstay with the Syracuse club team.
“She chose Syracuse for the academics,” Lloyd said of the four-year student council president at Schuylerville. “As far as sports, she figured club would fulfill her needs. She put a lot into that, and for them to go to her is a testament to her dedication.”
The Syracuse varsity is asking for much more.
“Six days a week. It’s like a full-time job, but it’s fun. It’s great,” Fowler said, adding. “One of the hardest things is getting used to the speed. Club is good ball, but to step up to this level. I’m playing with girls who wake up every day and live this.”
Fowler said she’s received great support from all of her new teammates, but especially from Spencer, who made the jump from reserve to starter this year. The senior netminder from Virginia has anchored Syracuse’s 13-2 run, winning 12 of those games.
“Right now, I’m still getting accustomed to all this,” Fowler said. “I’m not even looking for playing time, but for some reason if coach put me in there, I’d be okay.”
Of course, she would. After all, she is wearing No. 44.
PART OF HISTORY
Syracuse junior and Shenendehowa graduate Caroline Cady picked up her first collegiate point with an assist when the Orange began their season by beating Temple 8-0 for the program’s 500th victory.
Cady was among five Syracuse players who helped the United States U-21 Team place first at USA Field Hockey’s Young Women’s National Championship in July. As a high school senior, her Shenendehowa team won the state title.
DOSE OF CONFIDENCE
Shenendehowa senior setter Julia Paliwodzinski believes her team’s Suburban Council victory over Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Wednesday will have a lasting effect as the Plainsmen strive for postseason volleyball success.
The Plainsmen not only ended the Spartans’ league win streak at 390 matches, but did it with a sweep that included a 25-9 triumph in the pivotal second set. The Plainsmen took the first 25-20 and the third 25-17 to end the Spartans’ streak that began back in 1990.
“We’re always going to be thinking of this moment when we face tough competition,” Paliwodzinski said after assisting on 33 points and serving four aces, one of them capping the second set. “We know we can do it.”
Shenendehowa had its offense clicking and, with a strong defensive performance, rarely let Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake string points.
“I have to give a lot of credit to our passers,” Shenendehowa coach Lori Kessler said. “They often don’t get a lot of credit. We knew if we could pass off their serve we’d be OK.”
The Spartans’ best run came in the first set when they reduced a 12-3 deficit to 14-11, and the Plainsmen followed with a 4-0 spurt to regain the upper hand.
“One of our goals was to not let them put a lot of points on the board,” Shenendehowa junior libero Charlotte Macken said. “We didn’t want them to go on runs.”
Junior middle blocker Nicole Adams was Shenendehowa’s leading point-getter at the net with 17 kills and three blocks. One of her kills capped a 5-0 run in the third set when Shenendehowa overcame an 8-7 deficit and took the lead for good.
“This gives us confidence through the roof,” Adams said. “To do this . . . We’ve shown other people what we can do. Tonight we showed ourselves what we can do.”
Shenendehowa went five sets with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake last season before getting over the hump in a match that pitted 13-0 SC division champions.
“Since that game last season, we’ve been so hungry to win it,” Macken said after serving for 16 points with four aces. “Everybody knew what everyone had to do, and we fought so hard.”
Shenendehowa wants badly to join Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake as a state champion, with the Spartans getting their sixth New York crown in 2015. The Plainsmen reached their first state final four in 2014 and made it again last fall, but failed to advance out of the semifinal pool round each time.
“For us, this gives them even more confidence,” Kessler said of her six-time defending Section II Class AA champs. “We’ve been working year after year. It’s gotten closer and closer, and now this.”
Shenendehowa was the last SC team to beat Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in 1990 before the Spartans began their incredible streak.
Section II individual champion Haejin Lee of Shaker, Jackie Bornt of Averill Park and Ellie Siebeneck of Saratoga Springs will be joined by a trio of doubles teams at the state tennis championships slated for Saturday through Monday at Sound Shore Indoor Tennis in Port Chester.
Lee beat Bornt 6-1, 6-2 for the Section II title Thursday, while Siebeneck defeated Christine Lee of Niskayuna by the same score in the consolation final.
Zoe Davis and Bethy Behuniak of Bethlehem won the Section II doubles crown over Niskayuna’s Lisa Barash and Sasha Town 6-3, 6-2, and those four are state-bound with the Bethlehem tandem of Jenna Nimmer and Madeline Dering. They topped Shenendehowa’s Holly Swimm and Paige Ratsep 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-4 for consolation honors.
Megan Yeats of Hudson is the only Section II girl to win state individual title in 1998. Section II has never had a New York doubles champion.
Glens Falls wrapped up its first Foothills Council girls’ swimming and diving championship at 5-0, and its first title since 1979 (Aqua League), with last week’s 98-80 win over Gloversville/Mayfield.
Cairo-Durham edged Chatham 4-3 in the girls’ Class C/D tennis final last week for the first Section II championship in program history.
Holy Trinity and Hoosic Valley both made debuts of sorts in Saturday’s Section II Class C quarterfinal football game. For the Pride, it was their first playoff game. For the Indians, a 46-12 winner, it was their second tournament berth, but first sectional game on home soil.