Char Morett-Curtiss’ Illustrious Career Leads To Hall Of Fame Honor
In the world of field hockey, Penn State coach Char Morett-Curtiss has seen just about everything.
As a player or as a coach, with the Nittany Lions or with the U.S. National Team, few in sports have the experience of this Penn State legend.
The lifelong Pennsylvania native will be inducted into the PA Sports Hall of Fame on October 22. After four years as a player and 30 years as a coach for the Nittany Lions, Morett-Curtiss joins the likes of Joe Paterno and Russ Rose as previous Penn State coaches inducted.
The journey began in Aldan, PA, where she picked up field hockey as a seventh-grade student. She played just about every sport she could and was all about practicing with her six siblings. But there was something about field hockey the moment she went to her first tryout.
“My high school had a junior high tryout for field hockey,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I went to the tryout that day and I remember coming back home. I had my hockey stick and I had never really seen a hockey stick before. I remember running through the door and saying ‘I’m going to play field hockey.’ My dad said ‘what is it?’ I said ‘ I don’t know, but this is the stick you use to play it.'”
Morett-Curtiss was recruited by her coaching predecessor Gillian Rattray out of Lansdowne-Aldan High School. She would be the first of her siblings to attend a four-year college.
She joined the program in 1975 as a player and left her mark in that respect. She’s the program’s only three-time All-American and netted 50 goals during her four seasons. The highlight of her illustrious college playing career came in 1978, where she captained the Nittany Lions to an undefeated season before falling in the first round of the AIAW Tournament.
“I think the experience was not only one of competing at a high level, but also one of competing with fun and committed teammates.” Morett-Curtiss said. “I saw this program really improve. Coming in as a freshman, and by the time I was a senior, we got the No. 1 ranking and we were undefeated going into the tournament. Sadly we had a bad first game.”
Off the field hockey turf, Curtiss was also a prominent lacrosse player for Penn State. Consistently one of the nation’s top scorers, she helped the Nittany Lions claim the 1978 and 1979 USWLA National Championships.
She stuck around in Happy Valley for one more year with the field hockey and lacrosse programs as a graduate assistant before taking on her next challenge — the Olympics. She stayed in State College to train for the 1980 Olympics and was eventually named to the United States team heading to Moscow. Morett-Curtiss and her teammates wouldn’t compete on the highest stage for the sport that year after the American congregation boycotted the Olympics.
Four years later, she’d get her chance. The United States made history the national field hockey team has yet to match.
The Vonnie Gros-coached United States took bronze after defeating Australia 10-5 on penalty strokes. This is the first and only medal the United States field hockey team has ever won at the Olympics. Morett-Curtiss and her teammates were inducted into the U.S. Field Hockey Hall of Fame for the feat.
“I was really fortunate that I was young enough to stay with the program,” Morett-Curtiss said. “Knowing that the games were going to take place in LA was something we could really focus on when training. To have the opportunity for my parents and family to come out to LA and show that support was something that really meant a lot to me.”
All the while training to achieve her Olympic dreams, Morett-Curtiss got her first taste of coaching experience as an assistant at Old Dominion.
Legendary coach and Morett-Curtiss’ Olympic teammate Beth Anders tabbed the Penn State All-American to come on as an assistant in Anders’ first year with the program in 1980. In their four years together with the Monarchs, the duo led Old Dominion to its first two of a record nine NCAA Championships.
“Beth Anders and Vonnie Gros were my two biggest mentors,” Morett-Curtiss said. “They had the passion for field hockey and were very knowledgeable field hockey minds. That really helped mold my coaching career.”
After her four seasons at Old Dominion, Morett-Curtiss got her first head coaching job at the college level. She took over the Boston College field hockey and lacrosse programs and took the Eagles to unprecedented heights in her three seasons. The team posted a 34-16-8 record and claimed a conference title in her first season.
Eventually, opportunity came knocking for her to return to the place she originally made her name. Following the retirement of Gillian Rattray, Morett-Curtiss was offered the head coaching position at Penn State.
“I knew this would be a dream job for me,” she said. “I had so much respect for Gillian and I still do today. I’m almost like her daughter and she’s like a mother to me. I think [the Penn State job] was something I would have my eye on, I just wasn’t sure she was going to retire so soon.”
From the moment she was hired at Penn State, Morett-Curtiss’ track record has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Her current record with the program is 461-182-8, which is good enough for fourth all-time on the field hockey wins list if you include the 34 wins she racked up at Boston College.
In her 29 completed seasons, the Nittany Lions made the NCAA Tournament 25 times. They found themselves in the Final Four five times and reached the National Championship game in 2002 and 2007. She’s guided Penn State to seven Big Ten Championships, six Big Ten Tournament titles, and two Atlantic 10 Championships.
She’s also been honored as Big Ten Coach of the Year five times, Midwest Region Coach of the Year seven times, and Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year once. Her success with the program is something of legendary status in Happy Valley. She maintains that it couldn’t have happened without the people who have been part of Penn State field hockey through the years.
“I’ve just been blessed to have really good people around me,” Morett-Curtiss said. “The coaches between [Lisa Bervinchak-Love], Stewart [Smith], and a lot of the other assistant coaches that have really helped this program become successful. I’m just grateful for their commitment. Also to the commitment of the players that have come to Penn State.”
A lot has changed in the sport of field hockey over her years involved. Between the speed of the game, different rule changes, and the introduction of AstroTurf, the sport has changed for the better in her opinion. However, there is one thing that has changed with the specialization of youth sports, which frustrates her because of the big part it played in her youth experience.
“Where I feel really blessed is that I could play all these sports,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I had the opportunity to play six sports a year where as today, these kids, it really saddens me that they don’t have the variety to try all these different sports.”
Yet with all of the changes to her sport, there are a few things she’s happy to see still exist in the Penn State sports landscape. “The camaraderie between the athletes during my time at Penn State was very prominent in my life,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I think it’s the same way for the players today. I think they create those friendships.”
Penn State field hockey is enjoying a great season so far with a record of 12-2, its best since 2005. Morett-Curtiss doesn’t see the end of the road quite yet in her career, and she still has a number of things she’d like to achieve — like coaching Penn State to its first NCAA Championship.
“It’s not like I have an end in sight to my career,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I just want more victories, more success for this team.”