Like academic researchers and most doctors, athletes have become specialists. Kids pick a sport earlier than ever and spend more time pursuing it. With all this additional coaching and training, competition at professional levels is as fierce as it's ever been, and even such extraordinary athletes as Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders have been unable to excel at more than one sport.
It's the same story at the college level - unless your name is Tara Mounsey. At twenty years old, Mounsey '01 has already lived a lifetime in the public eye. As captain of her Concord, New Hampshire, high school hockey team, she led the way to a state championship. At Brown, her Bobby Orr-style skills as a defenseman guided the Brown ice hockey team to the 1997 Ivy League title and the ECAC regular season championship; Mounsey herself was named the ECAC and Ivy Rookie of the Year. And last winter in Nagano, Japan, she tallied two key goals and four assists as part of the U.S. women's hockey squad that won Olympic gold.
How can Mounsey top these accomplishments? Mounsey came from nowhere this fall to become one of two Northeast Region All-Americans on the Brown field hockey team. Almost incredibly, she led the women in scoring with eleven goals - only one shy of the school record - and five assists.
Because Mounsey didn't even try out for field hockey during her freshman year, and because she has been playing the sport only since her sophomore year in high school, some skeptics have wondered whether excellence at ice hockey easily translates into the kind of hockey played without skates. What if the entire Polar Bear squad, with last year's record of 22-7-4, spent a few months in the fall running around with short, rounded sticks instead of long, flat ones? Might Brown find itself with a team able to use gargantuan slapshots and bone-crunching cross checks to blow more polite field hockey teams off the pitch?
Alas, according to field hockey head coach Carolan Norris this scenario is about as likely as a group of heavily muscled football players finding quick and easy stardom in, say, track-and-field. "Tara is that one athlete in a thousand," says Norris. "That's the reason for her success in two sports. She's the best I've ever worked with at Brown, and I've worked with All-Americans and U.S. national team members in both field hockey and lacrosse."
Mounsey, a year-round ice hockey player throughout her childhood, points to a lot of hard work and some frustrations in adapting to a sport where players have to run, pass, and shoot from a stooped position. "For one thing," she says, "the length of the stick [in field hockey] is pretty awkward. It's tough on the back. And after being a defender in ice hockey, I wanted a taste of scoring in field hockey, so I had to learn to position myself on offense and think about a different part of the game."
Mounsey had two sports role models growing up. "My favorite hockey player was the Bruins' Cam Neeley," she says, "but I wasn't like, 'Oh, my God, I want to be just like him.' " A much more lasting influence was her father, Mike Mounsey, the owner of a construction company and a star baseball player during his years at Concord High. "I always did extra practice with my dad on the ice," Mounsey says, "and I remember looking through his sports scrapbook when I was a little kid. He taught me the same work ethic he always had, and the same is true for my brother, Mick," a lacrosse, football, and hockey player for Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut.
The dream of playing in the Olympics began forming during Mounsey's freshman year of high school, the same year women's ice hockey became an Olympic sport. "As soon as I read about it in the paper," she recalls, "I thought, this is my goal." When asked her most memorable impression of the Nagano Games, Mounsey lights up and describes the opening ceremonies: "You walk into this huge stadium. You see all these different colors, and you know that there will be millions of eyes on you for the next few weeks. It was a moment when the message was sent. You and your teammates are the best in the country, the best in the world. And let's see if you can play like that."
According to ice hockey coach Digit Murphy, Mounsey's athletic success is at least partly due to her unusual determination. "She brings intensity to everything she does," Murphy says. "When she's back there on defense, she wants that puck out of there, and she's going to get it out of there by hook or by crook." It's a quality that Mounsey has carried over to her second sport. Kim Rogers '00, Brown's other Northeast Region field hockey All-American, says that Mounsey is one of the most focused athletes she's ever played alongside. "She picked up a stick," Rogers says, "and here she is making herself known on the [Warner] roof. Tara's not like your textbook field hockey player, but she brings some new ideas from the ice and a kind of toughness." Thanks perhaps to this toughness, Mounsey's body tends to break down before her need to excel. She's already had two operations on her knees, and as she's told her teammates, her choice of a biology concentration and her goal to become an orthopedic surgeon "may be because I've had too many surgeries."
Playing two sports can be risky, of course. More games means more chances to get injured, and there are moments when Mounsey falls and her two coaches hold their breath and keep their fingers crossed. But those sounds you hear in the autumn from Warner rooftop and in the winter from Meehan Auditorium are not the sounds of coaches complaining. They're the crack-slaps of balls and pucks being slammed about by hockey sticks and smacking into cages. And behind that, through both of these seasons, the roar of a Brown crowd taking delight in watching a true rarity compete.