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Archive for February 10, 2021

Feb. 10, 2021 — The continued scholastic field hockey brain-drain

We’ve been getting reports about some major coaching changes in scholastic field hockey over the last two or three days, and the totality of the departures are difficult to comprehend. All we know is that there will be changes in three championship-level teams with the departures of Briana Price from Hershey (Pa.), Alexandra Marshall from Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), and Matt Soto from Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.).

This cluster of coaching departures, for me, represents the most significant set of coaching departures since 2002. That offseason, Arlene Salvati of Cheshire (Conn.), Nancy Fowlkes of Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.), Penny Calf of Walpole (Mass.), and the late Nancy Cole of Centereach (N.Y.) all retired, taking with them a century of coaching experience and some 1,800 victories.

The three that have decided to leave their coaching positions this year may not have the collective numbers as the 2002 retirements, or a second wave in 2005, but are no less illustrious for what their teams have accomplished on the pitch.

Let’s start with Price, this site’s United States Coach of the Year for 2018. She announced her departure from Hershey in order to not only spend time with her family, but to devote more time to administering and coaching with her club team, Pennsylvania United.

Marshall, who took over for the legendary Danyle Heilig at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), did splendidly last fall, shepherding the Vikings to a 14-0 record, extending the program’s run of sectional titles to 22.

We’ve also gotten a report, as yet unconfirmed, that Soto, the record-holder for the most field hockey coaching wins by a male scholastic coach, is stepping down to take a position at Spooky Nook’s new sports complex in Hamilton, Ohio.

The success of this trio of accomplished coaches is undisputed. Marshall is, as yet, undefeated as a scholastic head coach, winning a sectional championship in a situation which would overwhelm a lesser coach. Price took a team from the hockey-rich and highly competitive 422 Corridor and shepherded them to their first title in 2018. And Soto has coached Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.) to PIAA Class AAA state titles in 2008 and 2017, and has had more than 700 coaching wins in his career.

All three have had remarkably talented players on their rosters. Soto, of course, coached Jill (Witmer) Funk, who not only earned 148 international caps for the United States, but also helped the Applebees win their first major trophy in 94 years whilst winning the 2014 Champions Challenge in Scotland.

Marshall had the fortune to coach a team led by Ryleigh Heck, who was among the nation’s leaders in goal-scoring last fall. Price coached attacking midfielder Maddie Zimmer, who received a call from the U.S. women’s national team pool in 2019 after her captaincy of the U-17 side.

As many in the sports world have been discussing coach-player relationships in the wake of Tampa Bay’s win in the NFL championship game on Sunday, the relationships built between these coaches and their talismanic players cannot be overstated. It’s something that should be remembered in what they brought to their respective teams.

And these traits, along with their brand of winning hockey, will be missed.