By Phil Stacey Sports editor
The Salem News
---- — You can pretty much sum up Madeleine Lutts’ college field hockey career — and her ascension from wide-eyed freshman to senior star — in a single word.
“It has a lot to do with that. Everything to do with it, really,” said Lutts, the 21-year-old center forward from Salem, who has cracked into the top 10 all-time scoring list at Clark University.
“My first few seasons here, I wasn’t sure what I could do with my skills at this level. But in time, my confidence grew and this season, I know I can really do something and make a difference. I feel like I’ve come into my own mentally as well in terms of decision making and working with my teammates. It’s all because of confidence.”
Linda Wage concurs. She’s been the head field hockey coach at Clark for the last 28 years and has seen some terrific players pass through the Worcester school since the mid-1980s. So she’s well qualified to give her opinion on a player who has started for the Cougars all four years, but has gotten better in all phases of the game each season.
“The development she’s made in her four years here has been amazing said Wage of Lutts, who has set career highs this season in goals (16), assists (12) and points (44) with two regular season games, plus playoffs, remaining. “Madeleine has really contributed in so many positive ways, but this year as a senior captain she’s really stepped up her game and come into her own.”
With 36 goals and 27 assists giving her 99 career points, Lutts stands ninth all-time in school scoring annuals. Her 12 helpers this fall are also the second-best single season mark in Cougars’ history, and she ranks fifth in career assists.
One play speaks volumes
It’s fair to say that as her career draws closer to an end, Lutts is playing the best field hockey of her career. The former Salem High standout was named the NEWMAC (New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference) Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after netting three goals and two assists in a pair of wins for the 10-5 Cougars.
In the final home game of her career, Lutts — who also serves as sports editor of the school’s newspaper, The Scarlet — was brilliant against league foe Smith College last Saturday. She scored three times and assisted on the game-winning goal as Clark prevailed, 5-4.
But it was her game-winning assist in the previous game against Mount Holyoke (snapping Clark’s 5-game losing streak against the Lyons) that really showcased Lutts’ full contributions to the squad this season, said Wage.
“There’s a minute left in a tie game and (Mount Holyoke) has a corner in our end that we kicked out,” said Wage. “Madeleine gets the ball in the defensive end and dribbles it out. Our All-American (Mel Melkonian) gets ahead of her, and Madeleine keeps ball control as she moves upfield. She gets to the middle of the circle, the defender leaped at Madeleine, and she just makes this absolutely perfect pass over to Mel for a perfect goal with 39 seconds to play and we win.
“That one play epitomizes what I’m trying to say about Madeleine. You’re going to hear about the goal, but ‘Mad’ made the right decision to win us the game.”
Having played together for four years, Lutts and Melkonian (the all-time leading scorer in program history) have certainly developed chemistry. Like Lutts’ game, the on-field communication between the two has grown with each season.
What made Melkonian’s goal so remarkable, said Lutts, is that she had a broken thumb and had been to a doctor in Boston earlier that day, rushing back to Worcester in time for the game.
“It’s not easy knowing when to pass,” said Lutts, a political science major with a double minor in communications and Spanish. “It’s something I’ve really worked on. The assists are what I’m most proud of. There are so many people on our team that contribute in so many ways, and I’m happy I can do it this way. It’s a great feeling.”
‘Proud of her legacy’
She’s been told to shoot the ball more and has, particularly this season, but Lutts still prefers dishing the ball off for a teammate to score. Given the choice of scoring or assisting on a play, she’ll always choose the latter.
“It’s just my thing,” said Lutts, who also captains the Cougars’ women’s club lacrosse team in the spring. “I have more confidence in my passing and always have. Yes, I’ve doubled my goal total this year, but I like the team aspect (of passing).”
Clark has qualified for the NEWMAC tournament, which begins next week. It’s the third time in Lutts’ four seasons, but they’re still looking for their first postseason win.
Wage feels Lutts is a big reason why Clark — a team with 11 freshmen and/or transfers on its roster this fall — is headed back to the playoffs. It’s her confidence, leadership and helping everyone on the team feel welcome that have made her the influential talent she is today.
“The thing early on with Madeleine was convincing her she could be a really dominant player. Now she is,” said Wage. “She’s worked very hard the last two seasons; she’s much physically stronger and her skills are much improved. Everyone wants their senior season to be their best, but it doesn’t always work out that way. For Madeleine, though, it has.
“Madeleine can really be happy in herself for becoming a complete player. Her confidence, her toughness, her passing and defense ... all of those qualities are going to help her in life. Good work ethic leads to good things, and she can be proud of her legacy as a senior captain.”
“Every year has been different,” admitted Lutts, “with each one a growing experience for me. This season, with the new team dynamic and the way it’s gone, it’s a nice one for me to end on.”