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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Their Field of Dreams: Field hockey found success as WSU’s first intercollegiate female sport

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Over time, the geography of an increasingly far-flung schedule would put them on airplanes, and the women of Washington State’s field hockey team would entertain fellow passengers in the terminal – or annoy the grumpy ones – by balancing balls on their sticks or doing the juggling thing that would later allow Tiger Woods to help himself to more of Nike’s cash.

But as with every Cougar team in the nascent era of women’s sports, the hard mileage came on the road.

They would divvy up into station wagons or vans and head out to Boise, Eugene and over the border into Canada. Or they’d rent cars at the destination airport and head for their four-to-a-room hotel, hoping the caravan didn’t get separated negotiating alien freeways, which it usually did. They’d doze and sing and pass around the cutting-edge technology of the time – the Sony Walkman – and maybe get in a little homework at the risk of carsickness.

And they’d play games.

“Like Battleship,” said Heather Pelham Gilmore.

Between players in the front seat and the back seat?

“No, between the vans,” she said “We’d make up these cards with the numbers on them, and the person in the front of the van would hold it up, and the person in the back of the van ahead would hold up the sign for ‘hit’ or ‘miss.’

“Hey, what do you want? We didn’t have cellphones. Those drives were long. But I’d go back and relive every one.”

• • •

Jack Thompson’s football jersey is long retired at Washington State University. Klay Thompson’s No. 1 hangs in the rafters above Friel Court. There’s a campaign to erect statues on campus of Henry Rono and John Olerud. Jeanne Eggart and nearly 200 other former Cougar athletes are in the school’s Hall of Fame, along with 11 teams that went to bowl games or placed high in national events.

Cathie Treadgold’s No. 11 got retired, too.

So did Donna McIntyre’s No. 8 and Pam Monroe’s “lucky” No. 13.

In fact, every single field hockey number at WSU was retired in January 1983 … when the school retired the program, barely 13 months after the Cougars had placed higher at nationals than any women’s team at the school ever had – or would for another 25 years.

“To have it taken away,” said Cathie Treadgold Pavlik, “was heartbreaking.”

It was, after all, WSU’s first intercollegiate female sport, beginning in the 1960s but with intramural roots that stretched back to the ’20s. It was also a competitive beacon – first under coach Marilyn Mowatt, who won a school-record 17 games in 1978, and then Sandy Moore, who took the Cougars to three straight national tournaments beginning the next year.

The culmination was a sixth-place finish in 1981 at Cal in the last Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championships – NCAA finally deigning to assert its province over women’s sports thereafter.

It was a team built around a stifling defense, which allowed just 13 goals in 27 games. Sixteen of those were shutouts with Monroe in goal, whose connection with McIntyre – the sweeper and next-to-last line of defense – was critical.

But the Cougars also had a singular talent in Pavlik, who had already broken the school record for career goals before her senior year and would be an honorable mention All-American at season’s end.

And there was the firm and fair hand of Moore – 52-33-13 in her four years at WSU.

All of them underappreciated, to say the least.

“My first team meeting I remember asking Marilyn Mowatt how many people we were going to get at the game,” said Pavlik, “and she joked, ‘Oh, it’ll be full. There’ll be lots of seagulls there.’ ”

On a campus with high-wattage coaching personalities like George Raveling and Jim Walden, a Holiday Bowl-bound football team and electric performers like Eggart, Rono, Don Collins and Keith Millard, a relatively arcane sport – not played on the high school level in Washington – wasn’t going to carve out much of an audience. Even on those occasions when they played in Martin Stadium as a prelim to a football game.

“Some kids would get there early to get the best seats,” recalled McIntyre, “and they’d been doing a little drinking so they were loud. But they didn’t know what they were cheering for. In field hockey, you can’t undercut the ball – it’s not supposed to go in the air – but every time a ball went flying the students went wild. It was quite funny.”

• • 

But here’s the thing: the ’81 team had as its godfather a Cougar football legend.

Hank Grenda had been the surprise starter at quarterback in the 1968 Apple Cup, a third-stringer all season who then went out and passed, ran and kicked for all the points in a 24-0 thumping of Washington. A Canadian, he eventually became a school administrator in Kelowna, British Columbia – and, aware that his alma mater was beginning to fund scholarships for women, began steering promising female athletes to Pullman.

“I’d already had four siblings go through and money was tight,” said Pavlik, who had played “every sport” in high school and had a basketball offer from the Huskies. “He really went to bat for me.”

McIntyre and others would follow – a half dozen from Kelowna in all.

Moore, meanwhile, tapped her connections back east. A player at the University of New Hampshire, she’d been coaching high school in her hometown of Exeter when alerted to the opening at WSU by Dartmouth coach Mary Corrigan.

“We played against her team,” said Monroe, who grew up in nearby Newmarket. “They were good and we were awful. They beat us like 8-0 one time and I don’t think we got the ball past midfield. There were like 56 shots on goal. I’m sitting on the ground crying afterward and Sandy’s standing over me telling me I played a good game.

“No one in my family had gone to college and I was almost ready to go in ROTC so I could afford it when I got an offer from Sandy. So I got on a Greyhound Bus with Helen Pearce and Katy Lausier and rode 3,000 miles to Pullman.”

There were also players from California – and one from Washington.

Previous teams had included a number of in-state players converted from other sports, several who developed into standouts. But Gilmore, who had run track at Garfield High School in Seattle, was the walk-on’s walk-on.

“I was just going through campus and I saw them practicing down on the field,” she said. “I went down and said, ‘Hey, I want to play.’ What did I know?”

• • 

By her third season, a lot more.

She and Pavlik had the goals in a 2-0 win over the University of British Columbia after the Cougars had gone 0-2-1 to begin their own invitational to open the ’81 season.

That started a roll of 10 games without a loss, including the championship of the Colorado State tournament. Camaraderie that had been nursed over three seasons took hold through the long drives, the flights on which McIntyre said, “girls would sneak into the empty first class seats to sleep,” and renditions of the school fight song before games.

“Except we couldn’t let Helen Pearce sing because she would hyperventilate,” said Gilmore.

It all built to a November playoff game in San Jose against Cal for a berth to the AIAW tournament – though as the host team, the Bears were already in. Enhancing the high stakes was rivalry – one Bear, Maureen Robbins, had played with WSU in 1979 before transferring back home “and so those games were always fun,” Gilmore said.

This one was high-tension, too – tied 2-2 after 70 minutes of regulation play and two 71/2-minute overtimes. Then came the “stroke-off” – think penalty kicks – and three straight saves by Monroe that sent the Cougs to nationals.

Monroe had become a goalie for one simple reason: “I didn’t want to wear the kilt,” she said, opting for sweatpants under her pads. Nor did she wear a mask. Just a red ballcap, and some telltale nicks.

“I figured if it’s going to hit me in the head, that’s a save,” she said.

Two weeks later, in the first round of nationals against third-seeded Iowa, Monroe made a school-record 27 saves and the Cougars found themselves in another beyond-overtime marathon that went 22 penalty strokes.

The last one, Pavlik said, “gave me nightmares for weeks. I’d already shot two in, but this one flew a little hard, maybe an inch out. That was a crushing moment for me.”

Said Moore, “I was sure it was in.”

Pavlik had scored her 67th career goal just 11 minutes into the game. She had also played most of her senior year with a back injury that required constant icing and pain medication that often made her sick. But she bounced back from her disappointment with an assist on a goal in WSU’s 2-1 win over Dartmouth (“and Mary Corrigan, who got me the WSU job,” said Moore), before the Cougs dropped yet another overtime crusher to Cal in the fifth-place game.

“Cathie was a phenomenal athlete who could have played any sport she wanted to,” said Moore, “and field hockey obviously wasn’t the most popular.”

• • 

In its own department, too, as it turned out.

It was an era of challenge and upheaval in WSU athletics. Frustrated at the school’s glacial pace of progress toward equity, a group of female athletes filed suit against the school – not a Title IX action but one based on the state constitution. For every activist athlete, there was another who was conflicted.

“There was a basketball game where we were supposed to do some sort of rally at halftime in the stands and that took some nerve,” said Pavlik, who recalled getting hand-me-down warm-ups from the track team as a freshman. “I was grateful for everything I had. But on the other hand, you can’t have a blind eye to what’s not fair.”

Fairness got tested again when the team struggled through the 1982 season after a report recommended the sport be discontinued. Regional opponents were becoming harder to find – Cal and Stanford were the only other Pac-10 schools playing (and do to this day). But the rationale given by Athletic Director Sam Jankovich was that WSU “should provide opportunities for qualified Washington high school student-athletes” – an unmistakable reference to the makeup of the team.

That spring, the men’s track team won the Pac-10 championship with 132 points – 34 scored by in-state athletes. Last year, there were 195 women on WSU athletic rosters; 32% came from Washington.

There was some mourning. Gilmore, an art major, made a clay bust of a downcast field hockey player she called “Farewell to the Tartan” and gave it to Moore, who kept it until returning it to her a few years ago.

And yet to players like McIntyre, it was still “the experience and the opportunity of a lifetime,” and paved the way toward careers and fulfillment. She went on to a career in education in the Toronto area. Pavlik taught and coached for more than 30 years in Kelowna. Monroe is a lawyer in her native New Hampshire.

After WSU, Moore coached field hockey at Kenyon College for eight years before becoming athletic director and a department chair at SUNY Oswego, retiring six years ago.

Oh, and about those opportunities for Washington student-athletes? Gilmore and husband Terry retired to 20 acres near Ritzville a little over a year ago, after she spent 18 years with the Washington State Patrol out of Bellingham. Prior to that, she played a few years of field hockey for the Maralomas club across the border in Vancouver before transitioning to field lacrosse – winning 11 Canadian championships with the provincial team and playing in three World Cups with the national team.

“Without coach Moore saying ‘yes’ when I walked on,” she said, “none of that would have happened. And that’s why I say I’d do it all over again.”