A big honor for Wissahickon grad

Posted: October 19, 2010

Katie O'Donnell spent two weeks before the Women's Sports Foundation's annual awards dinner practicing walking in her five-inch heels - just in case.

The former Wissahickon field hockey standout didn't think she would win the Sportswoman of the Year Award on Oct. 12 in New York, although she was among five finalists.

To her surprise, the walking practice paid off. The University of Maryland senior won.

"My brother Joe just told me to go to New York and enjoy myself," said O'Donnell, 21, who figured that's what she would do. "When I won, I had to walk all the way from the back [of the Waldorf Astoria hall] to the front, and I didn't trip. I was stunned that I won."

She was thankful she was able to read the teleprompter for her acceptance speech, too. The five finalists - O'Donnell, U.S. softball standout Jennie Finch, Maryland lacrosse player Caitlyn McFadden, Olympic hockey gold medalist Meghan Agosta, and U.S. water polo goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong - were asked to prepare an acceptance speech in advance.

"I could read my notes," O'Donnell explained with a laugh.

The Sportswoman of the Year Award is the latest in a growing list of athletic honors that O'Donnell, a Blue Bell native, has earned since breaking on the field hockey scene as a freshman at Wissahickon.

At 16, she became the youngest U.S. National team player to compete in international competition. She has been a member of the U.S. Senior National team since 2005.

Arguably the most gifted field hockey player to come out of Southeastern Pennsylvania, O'Donnell holds numerous offensive records for the Trojans and Terrapins. She was named a first team all-American by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association as a freshman and was a candidate for the prestigious Honda Award that year.

In the No. 2-ranked Terrapins' 7-2 win over Delaware, O'Donnell recorded her 85th and 86th goals, giving her the school's career mark. She already held the Maryland career record for points and assists.

O'Donnell has her sights set on playing in the next two Olympics. When told she was young enough that she could probably play in at least three Olympics, she paused then hinted she might have some other plans by that time.

In contrast to O'Donnell, her high school coach, Lucy Gil, and Maryland coach Missy Meharg were not surprised by her selection as Sportswoman of the Year.

"When Katie came to Wissahickon as a freshman, I could see that she was the best player on the field," Gil said. "She was young but so mature.

"We were down in a playoff game that year, 3-1. Katie was determined that we were going to win. She scored three straight goals to give us a 4-3 win. She's a game changer. And she's an awesome kid. She made her mark on me."

The compliments also flowed from Meharg.

"Katie came for an unofficial visit and I asked her what position she liked to play," Meharg recalled. "She said center. I asked her if she meant center forward, center midfielder, or center back."

O'Donnell replied, "Just center of the field."

"After I went to see her play," Meharg said, "I understood what she meant. She could play anywhere."

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 267-8150733 or dbeideman@phillynews.com.

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