Long before she took center stage in the state field hockey playoffs, Madison Woods became the star of the show.
She’s danced in productions with the Joan Harris Center.
She sang the national anthem before thousands of people at professional sporting events.
And by the time her high school career ended, Woods had Wyoming Valley West singing and dancing all the way to the state finals.
Her last-minute goal against Villa Maria Academy put Valley West in a PIAA title game for the first time in more than a decade, and solidified Woods as the Times Leader 2017 field hockey player of the year.
But her splendor in the spotlight started years before that.
Take the US Open Tennis Championships in New York, for example.
The date of Sept. 10, 2011 at the Open is better remembered for Cyndi Lauper’s flub of the national anthem prior to the night matches. But it’s a day that will live in the memory of Woods forever, because when she sang the anthem as an 11-year-old for the afternoon matches, she aced it.
“She actually messed up the words. That was kind of funny,” said Woods, who also sang the anthem before a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders game. “Luckily, that’s never happened to me. It was quite the experience, because there were tons of people there and it was just a great atmosphere.
“Definitely one of my more memorable moments.”
The one nobody around Valley West will soon forget, though, came in the closing seconds of the next-to-last game of her high school career.
That’s when Woods took an insert off a penalty corner, made a little move and whistled the game’s only goal into the cage with three seconds to play while lifting Valley West to a 1-0 victory over defending state champ Donegal and into the PIAA Class 2A championship game.
“By far my favorite moment,” the 17-year-old daughter of Allen and Susan Woods of Kingston said, “just because our team had worked so hard to get to that point. And to solidify that, to get into the state championship game, was just such a great feeling.”
Never mind that Woods, a high-scoring forward through much of her high school career, wasn’t supposed to shoot much this year.
The Spartans’ co-captain unselfishly and enthusiastically switched to defense before her senior season in an effort to help the Spartans strengthen an area of need.
“It was a combined decision that it would be best for the team if I played defense, but I was pretty happy with the decision,” said Woods, who spends plenty of time on defense with her club team, the W.C. Eagles. ”We had some underclassmen and upperclassmen who could play that offensive position. And I’d been playing defense a lot in the offseason, so I had that experience in that position.”
She scored just five goals this season, but one was the game-winner in the state semifinals and another was the first score of a 2-1 overtime loss to Wyoming Seminary in a game that ultimately decided the WVC Division 1 title. And the final result of her position switch was a 20-3 overall record, Valley West’s second consecutive District 2 Class 3A title and the school’s second-ever trip to the state finals — and first since the Spartans won the PIAA Class A championship in 2003.
They didn’t get there by accident.
In that state semifinal game against heavily-favored Donegal, the nation’s No. 3 team which had won 54 of its previous 55 games, Woods was a defensive dynamo. She was the primary reason why Donegal’s Mackenzie Allessie — the second-leading career scorer in the United States and one of only four players to register more than 200 career goals — was held scoreless.
“Personally, I love to play people who are highly-skilled,” Woods said. ” I think it’s more fun than playing against someone who’s weaker. But fortunately, we have so many great forwards on our team that I’ve been able to practice against very good players. And so I think that just kind of transferred to the game scenario.”
That’s not the only area of her game where things tend to shift from one spot to the next.
Her fluid moves in field hockey were honed through years of dance rehearsals at the Joan Harris Center.
“I do (still go),” said Woods, who will play at the University of Pennsylvania next season on a field hockey scholarship. “They’re the nicest people, they’re always understanding with my field hockey schedule. And they’re always very welcoming when I want to come back and take classes. I love doing it. I’ve been dancing since I was 3. I do tap and jazz, I used to do ballet.
“And even, just when I’m getting ready before a recital, that same nervous/excitement feeling is the same kind of feeling I get before a field hockey game.”
She’s hardly the only multi-talented athlete in her family.
Her younger brother Brendan Woods started as sophomore on Valley West’s state quarterfinalist football team and is also part of the halftime show as a member of the school’s marching band.
“Which is kind of cool,” Madison Woods said, “because he does the marching band in his football uniform. It’s so funny. He stuck out like a sore thumb. I’m very proud of him.”
One way or another, Woods plans to make the spotlight shine bright on her future. She isn’t sure what position she’ll be playing at Penn, but if her high school career is any indication, she’ll be in a spot that will make a dramatic impact.
“I don’t know where, exactly, they will play me,” Woods said. “You know, honestly, I don’t really care where they put me. Heck, I’ll play goalie.
“As long as I’m on that field.”