Jim McLaughlin, Sports Editor
Since the departure of former field hockey head coach Sarah Elleman, field hockey interim head coach Nikki Kieffer has only seen a slight change to her role.
Elleman left UC after accepting the head coaching position at Stockton University and Kieffer was promoted to the top spot. However, the sudden change has not been overwhelming for her so far.
“It has not been that much different,” she said. “A little change has been my responsibilities, and it gets difficult when I have no one to turn for help. But we knew this was happening, so Sarah [Elleman] was preparing me for it throughout last season.”
Towards the end of last season, Kieffer was able to do more hands-on work with the team. She was beginning to become more involved in practice preparation and decision-making prior to Elleman leaving. The field hockey team began spring practices a few weeks ago, which gives Kieffer time to see how she would like to run things.
“I want to keep some of the philosophies that were established with [Elleman] while tweaking a few things,” Kieffer said. “I want to test new formations and use my judgement on if they will be successful for the future.”
Kieffer played field hockey and women’s ice hockey for UC when she was an undergraduate. In her career as a field hockey player, she was a part of three Empire 8 Championships and two trips to the NCAA Sweet 16. She has a great deal of experience as a player and with the program and she wants to keep that culture of winning alive.
“I really want to keep the culture the same as when I was playing for UC,” she said. “This is a program that raised me and I experienced the success it had first hand, and I don’t want that to change. The work ethic and mentality that was established won’t change for us.”
The 2016 season will be her second year out of competition, which led to question as to how the players will respond to her leadership. There are players on the team currently that Kieffer played with. Even though that can be seen as a challenge for some coaches, it has been easy for the team to adjust.
“It has not been hard because I had the leadership and respect from playing,” Kieffer said. “The trust is there and the girls are focused and have the attitude that makes it easy for me to coach. They don’t question what I tell them to do because I earned that respect when I played with them.”
The start of spring practice has allowed Kieffer to see what she has for the upcoming season and one thing she has noticed is her upcoming junior class’s attitude. There are eight soon-to-be juniors on the team that remind Kieffer of her senior class when she played.
“The entire sophomore class is really taking it seriously and is working to get better,” she said. “They came into the offseason exceeding my expectations and are a mirror image of my class.”
In terms of recruiting, Kieffer will make a big push this summer when she has more time to look at players that are not from the area. Besides the fall, she has been able to go to some local tournaments to not only look at players, but also to talk to coaches and pick their brains for advice.
The Pioneers finished 7-11 last season without a postseason appearance. Despite the lack of experience Kieffer has as a coach, she makes up for it with her experience as a player and looks to use everything she knows from that end to return UC to another Empire 8 Championship.
Featured image; Interim Head Coach Nikki Kieffer. Photo taken by www.ucpioneers.com