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Katie O'Donnell: The G.O.A.T. most never saw

In another story featuring some of Maryland's greatest athletes, I turn to some familiar territory for me. There's no controversy about Maryland field hockey's greatest of all-time. Is she the greatest few of you ever saw? Read on and decide.

Photo via STX

When I wrote the series about the greatest player of all time in Maryland women's basketball, the task was difficult because one could make legitimate arguments for several players. I don't think this is the case in field hockey.

With eight National Championships and nine other Final Four appearances, the program is clearly among Maryland's most successful and this level of success isn't achieved without a stream of great players. A few of the names on that list would be Carla Tagliente, Paula Infante, Susie Rowe, Nicole Muracco, and most recently, Jill Witmer. And these are just some of the offensive powerhouses. I'll ask the indulgence of the defenders and goalkeepers for omitting them because one player clearly stands apart from the others.

So, today, I'm going to revert to being FHFAN and introduce you to perhaps the least seen great athlete to have ever worn a Maryland Terrapins jersey. If you read her bio on Team USA's webpage, they call her the most decorated field hockey athlete in the nation. Her name is Katie O'Donnell.

Team first

Odie, as she is known to friends, fans, and teammates played field hockey for Maryland from 2007-2010. Whether your focus is  individual success or team accomplishment, O'Donnell had a remarkable time in College Park. In those four years, the Terrapins won three ACC Championships, lost the NCAA title game in 2009, and won it in 2008 and 2010.

To provide some perspective on this accomplishment (something I'll have to do more than once), you need to know that the ACC is to field hockey what the B1G is to wrestling or the SEC has been to football for the last several years. Over the past 20 years, ACC teams have won 14 national championships and the league has produced 13 runners-up. Though no league team won the title in 2012 and 2013, five of the eight teams in those two Final Fours came from the ACC.

There's O'Donnell and then there's everybody else

Now it's time to take a look at where O'Donnell stands in the Maryland field hockey pantheon. Field hockey's offensive statistics are sorted into three classes: points, goals, and assists. In compiling a player's total points, a goal counts as two points and an assist as one. Thus, if you finish your career with one goal and one assist, you will be credited with three career points. In her time at Maryland, O'Donnell finished as the Terps' all-time leader with 306 career points. Carla Tagliente is second with 187 and O'Donnell passed her as a junior.

Odie's 99 career goals account for 198 of those 306 points. In this, she's the Terrapins' career leader having scored 14 more than second place Nicole Muracco. The math then says that O'Donnell must have dished out 108 assists. This is not only the best all time at Maryland but it stands as the ACC record. At Maryland, Jen Pratt's 71 secures her the second spot.

It's time for another perspective break. Here's a list of Maryland's top five goal scorers:

Katie O'Donnell 99

Nicole Muracco 85

Carla Tagliente 73

Lisa Buente      70

Jill Witmer        67

And here's a list of Maryland's top five in assists:

Katie O'Donnell           108

Jen Pratt                         71

Rachel Hiskins             64

Lynsey MCVicker          50

Janneke van Leeuwen 49

You need to focus not merely on how far ahead of the others O'Donnell is but also to notice that hers is the only name appearing on both lists. For more perspective on how rare this combination is, look at this list of the NCAA's top fifteen all-time points leaders:

Name Games Goals Assists Points
Marina Di Giacomo 100 167 80 414
Maaike Hilbrand 104 167 38 372
Katie O'Donnell 91 99 108 306
Kristy Gleason 88 132 21 285
Sally Northcroft 126 18 270
Carol Thate 72 116 36 268
Stacy Ann Sui-Butt 53 103 41 247
Kathleen Sharkey 78 107 30 244
Paige Selenski 90 100 38 238
Chelsea Armstrong 80 99 38 236
Jane Catanzaro 83 117 0 234
Meredith Thorpe 89 101 28 230
Katie Grant 88 80 63 223
Valentin Godfrid 93 34 220
Christy Morgan 80 86 47 219

The thing to notice here is not merely that O'Donnell is third all time (and the first American on the list) but that she is the only player on the points list with more assists than goals. Taken as a whole, the other 14 players on the list average a 3.11 goal to assist ratio. Katie O'Donnell scored .916 goal for every assist. This is one of the key factors that sets Odie apart from other great players. In NCAA field hockey, players are typically either goal scorers or passers. Having a player who excels at both is, as you can see, not merely rare, but almost unheard of. On the NCAA's all-time lists, O'Donnell is third in points, twelfth in goals, and third in assists.

Here's a little highlight video. Odie is number 16.

Before I circle back to O'Donnell being "the most decorated" player on Team USA, I'd like to note one other aspect of her game that set her apart - at least to my uneducated eyes. O'Donnell is positioned as a striker - the equivalent of attack in lacrosse or to a lesser extent a forward in soccer. It always seemed to me that when the opposition possessed the ball in Maryland's half of the field (e.g. needed to clear to get into their attack zone), Odie was also Maryland's best and most dangerous defender in that part of the field.

The most decorated player

Here are some of O'Donnell's accolades: Before she came  to Maryland, Odie had, at age 16, already competed internationally for the U.S. National team. Not the under 16 or under 19 American team, mind you, but for Team USA as the youngest American to earn an international cap (the acknowledgment given to a player for appearing in international competition).

I'm going to ignore the weekly awards O'Donnell won over her career because that list would simply become tedious. As a freshman in 2007, O'Donnell won the first of her four consecutive ACC Offensive Player of the Year awards. O'Donnell was also named a consensus first team All-American another piece of hardware she'd take home in each of her four years. Oh, and did I mention she was the National and ECAC Rookie of the Year.

However, for O'Donnell, mere All-American status didn't suffice. So in her junior and senior years, in additional to All-American honors, she was named the National Player of the Year and Offensive MVP. Honda presents the Collegiate Women's Sports Award in twelve sports. Katie O'Donnell won the Honda Award for field hockey in 2010 and 2011.

One other award needs mentioning. In 2010, O'Donnell won the Women's Sports Foundation's Athlete of the Year. The annual award is presented to one team sport athlete and one individual sport athlete. Some of the women who have won this award subsequent to O'Donnell include Candace Parker, Abby Wambach. Prior to her, Award winners included Mia Hamm, Venus and Serena Williams, Rebecca Lobo, and Misty May-Treanor & Kerri Walsh. So Katie's in some high company.

A personal indulgence

Since you've indulged me this far, allow me to close with some personal observations. I consider myself privileged to have had the chance to watch Katie O'Donnell play field hockey for the University of Maryland. It was also a pleasure to come to know an athlete of her stature even casually. Statistically, her career shows her to be an athlete with little ego and the statistical anomaly of the combination of goals and assists she produced provides evidence of that.

Though Maryland went on to repeat as national champions the season following Odie's graduation, the road to that title had one deep pothole. The Terps lost the ACC quarter final to Duke in a game played in College Park. Katie was in the stands that day and I talked with her after the game. No one I saw that day needed consolation more than a despondent Katie O'Donnell because she couldn't be on the field to help her former teammates and her university get the win. And that, says about as much as anything else I can write about her.