By Maria Evangelou, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the game of field hockey, there are 11 players on the field. On offense, a left and right wing, two inner forwards and three midfielders. On defense, three backs. In the net, one goalkeeper.
In most cases, the competition between goalies can be tense, especially in cases where a team possesses two goalkeepers with equal potential to be the best in the league.
Penn State's goalkeepers are a special case.
With two stellar goalies on the roster, there's hardly tension between juniors Colleen Conway and Jenny Rizzo. Rather, it's their love for Penn State and the game that has resulted in one of the most tight-knit friendships on the team.
Their teammates and coaches are also in agreement - it's a relationship you can see and hear, from across the field and even miles away. The two can be found laughing or joking around before and after games, or getting pumped up for a tough outing with some football, just the two of them.
"It's a very unique relationship," head coach Char Morett-Curtiss said. "What I love about it is it's very sincere and genuine. There's such mutual respect and admiration, and the reason for that is they both work extremely hard. They both work hard at their positions."
Rizzo and Conway didn't know what was in store for them when they recognized each other on campus in passing prior to the start of their freshmen seasons.
"In the summer it was interesting, because I think we did see each other more as competition than possible friends," Conway said. "Once the season came around, we really got along and became supportive of each other and realized that would be a better way to go about it. Now she's one of my best friends on the team."
Rizzo was recruited early in high school by Penn State, arriving from her hometown in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Conway, who is from Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, joined her in committing to the Nittany Lions a bit down the road.
"We got to know Jenny over such a long period of time through her club coach from home and we were a bit worried about bringing someone else in for the right fit," assistant coach Stuart Smith said. "When we saw Colleen play, we were blown away by her capabilities and her personality. It's not easy to recruit goalkeepers in the same class and everybody gets nervous about it because they think they'll just fight each other for the starting job. What I love about these two is that they're best friends."
Morett-Curtiss and the rest of the coaching staff recognize their similarities as well as the strengths both Nittany Lions possess in the net.
"Colleen is very aggressive, whereas Jenny is aggressive but has a bit more calculation to her," Morett-Curtiss said. "We've had connections with goalies in the past but I think these two are very unique. Especially because I think more recently, society and culture has sadly focused a lot on individuals and less on the team. I think Colleen and Jenny are both in it for team success."
It's not uncommon for the team to hear Conway on the sideline screaming Rizzo's name, cheering her on with each save.
"Goalies spend a lot of time together apart from the team just working on their own position and they don't integrate with the other field players as much, so it's right in your face that their competition is right there," Morett-Curtiss said. "They are so supportive of each other, verbally encouraging each other."
Their similarities don't stop at their personalities, as both keepers also have a twin sibling. Rizzo has a twin brother and Conway has a twin sister.
"Jenny is pretty similar to my twin," Conway said. "We get on each other's nerves sometimes but then we're right back at it. She's like my twin away from home."
For Smith, coaching two keepers with such a special bond and support system has been enjoyable, rare and even easy.
"I've worked with national teams and I've never seen keepers get along the way they do, just because there's always such competition, Smith said. "They are so close, they make me laugh every day," Smith said. "They're both in my office all the time looking over film and they both want to get better. The level of growth has been fantastic. I love it when they come to talk to me about what's going wrong, they're always in and they're both such good people."
Evident in their friendship, the duo had nothing but good things to say about each other, both on and off the field. Instead of viewing each other as competition, both chose to make the most of their relationship, which has only helped them grow as teammates.
"Colleen's ground game has grown so much and I think that's helped me because I'm learning from her," Rizzo said.
Rizzo earned a spot on the Team USA U21 National Team, which has provided her the opportunity to compete and attend practices and clinics throughout the year. It's also an experience she uses to help others around her grow.
"A lot of times when I'm struggling with something, I go to Jenny and ask her take on it," Conway said. "Especially when she comes back from USA stuff, I want to know what the best of the best are working on. If I'm struggling with a drill, I'll watch Jenny to see what skills she uses and kind of work off of it."
For Morett-Curtiss and her staff, the bond between Conway and Rizzo largely contributes to the rest of the team's bond as a whole."The team sometimes sees us as goofballs I think," Conway said. "We're definitely comic relief and we lighten the mood for the team," Conway said.