Cheri Schulz has to go pick up food to fuel the players for practice, but you don’t see that. She books the hotels, orders the meals and coordinates the logistics that keep the programming humming, but it isn’t in her job title.
She also has to pore over film, looking for tells and insights, especially penalty corners on both ends of the ball. And, perhaps first and foremost, she needs to get the UConn goalies ready, teaching them what it takes to backstop an annual national title contender.
Schulz is the assistant coach and goalkeeper coach for UConn Field Hockey, but her role traverses the whole organization and, in 18 years with the program, has helped create a whole lot of winning along with team development.
“She does everything that you can think of,” defender and rising senior captain Antonia Tiedtke said. “If you ever have any questions, or think of something, it’s a ‘Cheri question.’”
UConn field hockey emphasizes its familial atmosphere, but the types of things that lend themselves to such a culture don’t happen without Schulz’s coordination on the back end.
Of course, her impact on the hockey itself is incredibly important as well.
Part of her scouting is synthesizing an opponent attack so that associate head coach Paul Caddy can coordinate the defense against it. She also recreates the opposition’s defense, looking for repetitions and indicators that the Husky offense can exploit. It has manifested in results for the Huskies on multiple occasions.
“It was the 2013 NCAA tournament game against Syracuse, which we won 1-0,” Schulz said. “The corner we won on was based on a tell we found in their defense. We tipped around their defense with Mckenzie Townsend because we knew the way they were going to move a certain player and what they were going to run.”
Schulz was a goalie herself, playing four years at Syracuse from 1991-1995 and immediately became a graduate assistant for two seasons starting in 1996. She moved on to Fairfield for a year, then Providence College, coaching against UConn for two before settling in Storrs.
Cheyenne Sprecher, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall and is currently the team’s starting goalkeeper, met Schulz in her sophomore year of high school. It was clear even then that Schulz was both incredibly welcoming and thoroughly prepared, making it an easy commitment for the Palmyra, Pennsylvania product.
“When I need something, she will do whatever she can to assist me or anyone on the field really,” Sprecher said. “I think there is a lot people don’t understand [about goalkeeping]. They think you just stand in goal and deflect shots. When I came here, she really broke things down for me and showed me the tactics and the skills. Look at the past goalies and it shows how successful she has been.”
In 2017, her pupil Nina Klein helped guide the Huskies to an undefeated record, leading the nation in goals against average (.86) and save percentage (.816). She was one of the latest in a long line of goalie success over Schulz’s tenure at UConn. Sprecher was the 2018 Big East Freshman of the Year.
“It’s a little like baseball where you need a pitching coach,” Nancy Stevens said. “The goalkeeping skills are just so different from the field skills. She’s developed a numerous amount of All-Americans which is a tribute to her.”
Schulz prescribes a heavy dose of the basics. It is not uncommon for a goalie’s origin story to have been thrown in goal and told a few basic rules, such as not kicking the ball over the end line or only kicking it in the circle.
“We spend of time on the skills,” Schulz said. “Breaking them down so they know what to do and then the cues on when to do it.”
With Sprecher, unfamiliarity came with going to ground on defensive penalty corners. That is a recipe for failure in the college game when teams have a powerful straight shot, be it on a hit or a sweep. So teaching her identification on how to defend based on how the setter stops it or the how the shooter is holding becomes both revelatory and of importance in defending it.
Schulz and her pupils have what she calls “goalie world.” In preseason they spend a lot of time together as the focus across the team is on the fundamentals. There is an intimacy to their unit. When Schulz is reffing during practice, the third goalie not in the action will stand behind the starter, both providing feedback and getting a visual of their own. It’s reciprocal among all three. There has to a dynamic of self-evaluation, something Schulz knows is not ubiquitous from her travels in the field hockey world.
“I can look at Cheyenne coming off the field and she can go, ‘I know what you’re going to tell me: This, this, this and this.’ That piece is huge,” Schulz said.
She also believes in an honest and candid relationship.
“We only can have one goaltender that plays. You can’t put them at a midfielder position or a goaltender position,” Schulz said. “You need them to respect that order. We are honest in it. You tell them they can do this, or this is where they stand, but this is my starter. If you can prove me wrong, we’ll make changes, but otherwise this is where we stand.”
It is not to be mean or discouraging. Rather, it is for clarity so that they can have decision-making skills that help the team.
The rapport between the players and coaches within UConn field hockey is very strong. The roster turnover that requires new assimilation and team building, as well as fresh relationships, is something she cites as keeping her invigorated too.
“It’s a family fit,” Schulz said on why she has stayed at UConn for 18 years. “Paul, Nancy and I are our own little family. The players and their families make it a big family. We are very comfortable in what we do and how we do it.”
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.