The last two seasons have been difficult for the Indian River varsity field hockey team. Each year they’ve had a new coach, and each year they’ve failed to make it past the first round of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association state field hockey tournament.
This season marks a new chapter in the Lady Indians’ story, starting with their new coach, Indian River alumnus Kaitlin Harker.
Harker inherits a team that lost a considerable number of their core players to graduation but is bottom-heavy with young talent. Of the 38 girls on Harker’s roster, only 11 of them are upperclassmen. And of that collective group, many are being tried out at new positions.
“We’re trying out some girls in new positions,” Harker said. “Some are moving from offense to defense, and others from midfield to offense and defense. I’m mixing and matching them around, but the girls have adapted well. Overall, they’re very responsive and very coachable. And if they’re confused, they ask questions and that is encouraging for a coach.”
Harker made the transition from defense to goalie at Dickinson College in Carlise, Pa., and noted that changing positions is all about “just getting out on the field and doing it.”
And, to help her players make the transition from different positions and also to another coach, Harker’s main point of emphasis has been to push them to learn to think for themselves out on the field.
“I want them to be independent on the field and not look to me for every play,” Harker said. So far, her message has been well received.
“We’re the ones on the field that have to make a play, so we need to communicate with ourselves to have a chance to win,” senior goalie Abi Buchler said.
Buchler began playing high school field hockey her sophomore year and is one of the few Lady Indians players who has had the perspective of playing for a new coach every year.
“When we’d heard that we were getting a younger coach, some of the girls thought that she’d be a good friend; but she came in and set ground rules, and everyone has followed,” Buchler said.
The first of these rules is that once players step onto the practice or game field, field hockey takes all precedence.
“When they’re on my time, field hockey is the only thing I want them talking about,” Harker said.
“Coach Harker is really doing a great job,” Buchler added. “She’s done a great job of getting us prepared, and every day we know what to expect in practice.”
By all accounts, Harker is a no-nonsense type of coach. If you’re late, you run a lap. If you drive across the parking lot to practice, you run a lap. If you’re wearing jewelry, you run a lap. Talk about the homecoming dance, you run a lap.
Harker noted the reason she’s maintained a hard stance because that’s her job. It’s not to be a big sister or a friend but to be the best field hockey coach that she can be, despite having coached many of these players at various camps or clinics when they were young.
“I’ve never made it an option to be a friend,” she said. “I don’t delve into their personal lives and I don’t want them delving into mine.”
So, by eliminating the idle chit-chat and getting the players buckled down to business, Harker has created an atmosphere of focus. The Lady Indians will open the season up against a tough opponent in Dover in six days, but as of this point, Harker has kept the players focused on having good practices each day, with the idea that wins and a return to the state tournament will come.
“Certainly, some of the girls have that goal already,” Harker said of the state tournament. “But, right now, I’m just trying to keep them focused from day-to-day and game-to-game.”
Indian River will play their first two games on the road, at Dover and Seaford, on Sept. 11 and 13, respectively.