The Franklin & Marshall scholar-athlete profile features a Diplomat who personifies what it means to be an NCAA student-athlete. The F&M campus is filled with dedicated, passionate, and talented student-athletes who have interesting stories to tell – and it's our goal to let those stories be heard. To be chosen as a scholar-athlete of the month, F&M student-athletes must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership, and community service, or have a noteworthy story that stretches beyond the realm of athletic competition.
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Many words could describe the Franklin & Marshall field hockey team's defensive unit throughout the past four seasons, but no other descriptor offers quite the same accuracy as this one – elite.
Last season, the Diplomats' 0.51 team goals-against-average mark was third in the entire country, setting a program single-season record and leading the Centennial Conference (CC) for the third time in the last four years.
And while there have been numerous All-CC defenders along F&M's backline during that elite stretch of play, there has been one consistency.
Goalkeeper Ilianna Santangelo '19 was a remarkable four-year starter in cage, who seemed to get better each season.
Santangelo was a steady presence for the Diplomats, who accumulated a 68-17 record during her time in Lancaster, advancing to four NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, a pair of Elite Eights and the Final Four in 2017.
Number 87 was there for it all, starting in 80 of 82 career games and providing key saves in key moments. As remarkable as her first three seasons were, her senior year in 2018 was historic.
Named to both the Longstreth/NFHCA Division III and Synapse Sports All-America Second Teams, she finished fifth in the country in save percentage (.851). She surrendered only 11 goals in 1,460 minutes to set a program record for lowest goals-against-average mark in a season at 0.53 - a number good for fourth in Division III.
"Ilianna was a tremendous team player," explained head coach Kaitlyn Eager. "At the goalkeeping position, you have to be ready to adapt to anything. There are some games that you get a lot of action and other games you may only touch the ball one or two times.
"She knew the less she touched the ball, the better the team was doing by keeping the ball in our offensive end. She never cared as much about her individual accolades as she did winning as a team."
Santangelo has assured herself a rightful place among the program's best. She is the program record holder in career wins (64), shutouts (32), and lowest goals-against-average mark (0.75). Santangelo collected a total of three All-CC honors during her career, including a pair of First-Team nods, and was named to the Synapse Sports All-Rookie team as a first-year.
For her outstanding performance in both field hockey and the classroom, she was named the school's Karvasales Award winner as the senior female student-athlete who displayed "cumulative outstanding athletic and academic achievements over a four-year period."
"I really enjoyed field hockey at F&M, and I valued my teammates and the competition," said Santangelo, a native of Sudbury, Mass.
"Playing defense is challenging. There is a lot of anticipation and quick reaction involved. You've got to communicate and work with your teammates. We had a great group."
During her time at F&M, Santangelo also made an impact away from the field as president of Students for Autism Awareness for three years. She said she likes to work with youngsters and has been an aide in helping a young boy with autism.
"I enjoy special-needs students," said Santangelo. "I like working one-on-one in the health-care field.
"My interest lies in aiding the special-needs community in a variety of capacities. I hope to learn the medical side of illnesses and also the inner workings of each individual and what we as a larger community can do to assist them in living their happiest existence."
In conjunction with her plan to enter the health-care industry, she is now employed at Massachusetts General Hospital in the emergency department as a medical scribe. She also intends to take courses at Northeastern University with the goal of attending medical school.
Santangelo's departure means the Diplomats will be forced to adapt without their safety net - their fixture between the pipes for the last 82 games.
"It was very helpful to have a solid goalkeeper in the backfield like Ilianna," said head coach Kaitlyn Eager. "As a coach, you don't worry as much about the ball getting into our defensive end when you have someone of Ilianna's experience and confidence."
Given the program's history, there is a good chance that F&M field hockey's defense will remain elite in 2019. But number 87's presence in cage will be missed. Replacing a four-year starter is challenging. And replacing a student-athlete like Ilianna Santangelo, who put the team first while consistently competing at an elite level when her number was called, is an even greater hurdle to overcome.