Nancy Stevens does not immediately come off as the winningest coach in NCAA Division I field hockey history.
She seems too kind, like someone you’ve known all your life and just happen to be catching up with during some down time. The longer you talk to Stevens though, the qualities that make her the best of the best begin to seep through.
First, she genuinely cares. About the answers she’s giving, about her players and about the program that she has led for the past 28 seasons.
“Coach Stevens and the whole coaching staff really create a warm and welcoming environment,” senior and 2018 team captain Amelia Iacobucci said.
Iacobucci described how comfortable players are talking to Stevens about things that come up both off and on the field. In the team office there is a room where players can do homework and talk to each other but in order to get there, players have to pass the coaches’ offices which gives the coaches and players a chance to talk off the field and catch up regularly.
Former player Nina Klein said that the open environment Stevens created really encouraged athletes’ families to feel like they were part of the team as well. There were tailgates planned after games and Stevens made sure to invite and welcome parents.
Stevens sees her job beyond just coaching a sport. She prepares young ladies for the life ahead of them and in doing so teaches them about hard work and their worth.
During the 2017 season, when the team won their third National Championship in five years, Stevens opened the year with writing “You are enough” on a board in the locker room.
Klein, a redshirt senior at the time, said that Stevens brought back the phrase during her pre-game speech before the Final Four games that the team would go on to win.
This past season, the team’s motto was ‘Earned. Not Given.’ to remind them of the hard work that goes in during the season and that championships are never guaranteed.
“You have to put the work in to get what you want out of it,” Iacobucci said. “I think that’s huge because no matter what job you go into that’s such an important piece. Things don’t just come to you.”
That mantra of working hard is one that is embedded into every aspect of the program. The team is regularly honored for their academic achievements including senior Ashley Rich being named one of the three valedictorians for the School of Nursing.
While many schools discourage athletes from taking on time consuming majors Stevens allows her players to choose the best major for them, even if it means balancing athletics and studies very carefully.
“They have a coaching staff that emphasizes student over athlete,” Iacobucci said of the team.
And while Stevens may be like every other coach and have to give out tough love sometimes Klein said that it always had a purpose.
“She may have been blunt but you knew it was factual and needed to change in the moment,” Klein said of Stevens.
Both Klein and Iacobucci said that their memories made off the field with the program are as important to the ones made on the field. They were both on the team in 2017 when the squad won a National Championship.
“Being a part of something so great that we were able to add on to and contribute to this program-it just felt amazing,” Iacobucci said of winning.
Iacobucci also said she loved getting to travel with her teammates and bonding during bus rides and team dinners. Klein said that she was able to bike the Golden Gate Bridge during a trip to play Cal her freshman year which was an experience she never would have had if it wasn’t for the team.
As I finish up talking to Stevens I can see why her players both former and present adore her so much. She oozes love for the program and is proud of where her former players have gone in life.
Klein, now an assistant field hockey coach at Quinnipiac University, praised Stevens for helping her get where she is today.
“Those five years [at UConn], were some of the best five years of my life,” Klein said.
Mariana Dominguez is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.