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Taming the Talent

Former field hockey phenom found focus with help from coach

Marina Di Giacomo helps with a Southern California field hockey program, teaching girls, including her daughter, Giuliana, to love the game. Submitted by Marina Di Giacomo

In the late 1990s, Marina Di Giacomo was a talented but headstrong field hockey player from Mendoza, Argentina. Beth Anders was a Division I coach with a knack for discipline and a passion for ensuring the women on her teams earned their degrees.

Today, nearly 17 years after Di Giacomo’s college playing career at Old Dominion ended with a hoisting of the national championship trophy on her home field, both player and coach can look back and laugh.

“I was wild. I had no structure. I was not polished. I didn’t have great habits and consistency,” Di Giacomo says. “All I knew is I had talent, but it was not presented to the team and (Anders) at the same level every day.”

“All great athletes are challenges because sometimes our greatest strength becomes our greatest weakness,” Anders says. “Several times she told me she didn’t agree, and I’m fine with that. We kept working through it, and all of a sudden she would get it.”

What Di Giacomo would get was an impressive collection of NCAA career offensive field hockey records with 414 points (first), 167 goals (tied for first) and 80 assists (tied for fourth). In 2000, she led the Monarchs to their NCAA-record ninth national championship with single-season records of 63 goals and 151 points in her senior season. She also contributed to her team’s national championship victory as a sophomore in 1998.

Points

Season: 151, Marina Di Giacomo, Old Dominion, 2000 (63 goals, 25 assists in 26 games)

Career: 414, Marina Di Giacomo, Old Dominion, 1997-2000 (167 goals, 80 assists in 100 games)

Points per game

Season: 5.81, Marina Di Giacomo, Old Dominion, 2000 (151 in 26 games)

Goals

Season: 63, Marina Di Giacomo, Old Dominion, 2000 (26 games)

Career: 167, Marina Di Giacomo, Old Dominion, 1997-2000 (100 games); Maaike Hilbrand, Old Dominion, 1988-89, 91-92 (104 games)

The individual accolades of her senior season, which included winning the Honda Award as the national player of the year, almost didn’t happen. Di Giacomo wasn’t immediately eligible to compete as a freshman and had to redshirt her first year at Old Dominion while taking English classes that didn’t count toward her degree during her first semester. That left her just 3½ years to complete her full college course load to earn her degree and her fourth year of eligibility.  

“I was not a good student in high school. I was too passionate and too inclined to just play field hockey,” Di Giacomo says. “School, in the beginning, was not my priority.”

Her parents hoped American college sports would open new doors for their daughter.

“Her father pursued us tremendously because he knew education was important to me and he wanted somebody to discipline her so she would get a degree,” Anders says. “She was going to go to class, and she was going to get a degree. That was non-negotiable, even though she wanted to negotiate that in her first couple years. We just kept on working with her. She would get so mad at us, but we just hung with her and didn’t let her off the hook.”

Di Giacomo graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s in communications. Degree in hand, she went on to score a record 11 goals in the 2000 tournament while a graduate student. Her 21 career NCAA tournament goals are also a record.

Her collegiate success led to international opportunities. She was the only player with U.S. collegiate experience to make the Argentinian national field hockey team that won bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

And she credits much of her success to a coach with high expectations.

“When you’re not mature enough and haven’t lived enough to experience what life is like, you don’t quite understand the bar that she sets for you, which is pretty high,” Di Giacomo says of Anders, who compiled 560 victories in 30 years at Old Dominion to place her sixth on the list of all-time winningest NCAA field hockey coaches. “After you leave the program, you can’t thank her enough. She pretty much built character. She built values. She built great habits. I can say with 100 percent honesty that I still use things every day that I learned through her program.”

Di Giacomo has settled in San Marcos, California, just north of San Diego, where she works in e-commerce and digital marketing. She also remains involved in field hockey and works with former teammate Tiffany Snow to introduce the game to girls under 12, including her 9-year-old daughter, Giuliana.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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