The year was 1987. Legendary Penn State field hockey coach Gillian Rattray had just retired after leading the field hockey program through 17 straight winning seasons and five straight NCAA Tournament appearances. It was one of the most successful competitive runs for any sports program in Penn State’s history.
But with Rattray’s decision to retire, 1987 saw a familiar face return to Penn State.
Charlene Morett, a former star player for the Nittany Lions, returned to her alma matter to make a legacy of her own.
And 26 years later, Morett’s guidance and success with the Penn State field hockey program continues, not only as a great coach on the field, but a terrific one off it.
Morett won her 400th career game for the Lions last Friday, as her speedy, dynamic squad soundly defeated No. 24 Indiana, 7-1. She is one of four Division-I field hockey coaches with more than 400 victories, and ranks fourth all-time with 427 total wins.
“The day they got her 400th win, the team just rose to the challenge,” assistant coach Lisa Bervinchak- Love said. “They played so well… and they enjoyed being on the field. They played from the heart and with Penn State pride, it made the day extra special.”
The field hockey team’s Penn State-pride comes from none other than Morett, who not only played for Penn State, but also as her old coach Rattary puts it, “bleeds blue and white.”
Morett graduated from Rattray’s highly successful field hockey program in 1979 as one of its all-time greats. She captained the 1978 undefeated squad, remains the program’s only three time first team All-American, and scored 50 goals during her four-year career (including five in one game — the first Nittany Lion to ever accomplish the feat.)
And if that wasn’t enough, Morett’s incredible athletic ability allowed her to excel on the lacrosse field, where she was an All-American and one of the top scorers in the nation when Penn State won its second consecutive national championship.
“I was very lucky to coach her,” Rattray said. “She was very athletic, and fun to watch. She was so enthusiastic too, and gave everything she had on the field. She was great to coach.”
Rattray elaborated on Morett’s leadership abilities, as she was captain of a squad that had tremendous chemistry.
“The players all liked each other. They stayed together,” Rattray said. “She had great leadership qualities even then. Her players work very hard for her.”
Because of her successes, Morett found she was unable to leave the game she loved. After a year of graduate assistant work at Penn State, Morett continued to play field hockey on the international scene.
A two-time Olympian, Morett played in more than 100 matches around the world while preparing for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and received a bronze medal during that tournament.
“Travelling the world was amazing… I loved travelling to places like Malaysia, Australia, Singapore,” Morett said. “Just to experience the different cultures and everything… and to see field hockey played by all ages. It was so great to see whole families playing together and everything. Just a truly great experience.”
Her time around the world also taught her to appreciate the opportunities she had in her own life.
“When we went to Malaysia for the World Cup in 1983, it was crazy to see how the population lived, they were living in tin huts and we were just staying in some nice fancy hotel. It was a very eye-opening experience,” Morett said.
During her time as an Olympic athlete in the early 1980s, Morett also gained valuable coaching experience while an assistant at Old Dominion University. In her time there, the school won three straight national championships.
Despite massive success with her program, Morett has not won a national championship during her time at Penn State, something she says “haunts her,” but her time at Old Dominion taught her how she could be successful in other ways.
“I was there with Beth Anders [Old Dominion’s head coach], and she taught me that I could be successful off the field too, behind the scenes, doing things for the team.” Morett said.
Morett’s first head coaching position would come at Boston College in 1984, where she coached both the women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams.
While there, she guided the Eagles’ field hockey team to an Eastern College Athletic Conference title in only her first year as coach. The remainder of her years there saw the Eagles consistently ranked within the nation’s top 20.
But after Rattray retired, Morett was offered the opening of a lifetime.
“Every alum dreams to become a head coach of their alma matter, I was no different.” Morett said. “I was a successful product of the university, so I felt I could really sell the experience to new athletes.”
Following Rattray meant keeping up the excellence of Penn State’s field hockey program, something Morett felt she could achieve from the get-go.
Rattray left the program having made it to the NCAA tournament five straight years. Morett inherited the program and didn’t miss a beat, leading Penn State on to 14 more NCAA tournaments in 14 years — Penn State didn’t miss a tournament from 1982-2000.
And under Morett and Rattray’s tenure, Penn State field hockey has made it 31 straight years with at least 10 or more wins, the longest streak in Division I field hockey history.
“[Char] brings a lot to the table, a lot of commitment and passion,” said former player and Big Ten athlete of the year Heather Gorlaski, who played for Morett from 1995-98. “She’s so determined to make you better. She cares, and considers you a friend.”
Morett’s success on the field is definitely notable, but when talking to former players, coaches, and her own team, it’s obvious that coach “Char” can be more than just a voice yelling from the sidelines to change positioning.
“We’re always known for being close knit and having good team chemistry, and that starts from the top from our leader,” Bervinchak-Love said. “She really cares about the players, cares about the staff... every day she shows up with more energy, more intensity, and the players see that. She doesn’t expect anything from them that she doesn’t expect from herself.”
The long tenure of Morett means she’s earned a certain degree of respect among her players.
It can be hard to doubt a coach who’s been around the game for so long.
“Its actually kind of intimidating,” senior midfielder Hannah Allison said. “With so many accomplishments in her lifetime not only at Penn State but also for the USA national team. To be playing for her is an honor.”
“She’s been doing it for 26 years here,” defensive back Abby Fuhrman said. “Sometimes you don’t want to do what she wants you to do, but she knows what she’s doing, and its obviously working for us right now.”
Currently, the Nittany Lions stand at No. 6 in the country, with a record of 10-2 (2-0).
And since their tough, 3-2, overtime loss to Princeton on Sept. 6, the Lions have won seven straight, propelling them straight into the heart of Big Ten play.
Morett hasn’t won a national title at Penn State yet, but with a team as determined and committed as this year’s squad, Char cant help but wonder if this is the year it all comes together for her and her team.
“It’d be great if this was the year,” Morett said. “You never know what can happen.”
To email reporter: firstname.lastname@example.org