Anthony Cittadino, Sports Editor
Growing up in Rome, Utica College interim head field hockey coach Nikki Kieffer found her love for sports. That love brought her to UC as a freshman in the fall of 2011. “If you would have asked me in high school I would have told you I was never, ever going to come here because it was so close to home,” Kieffer said. “I just wanted to play hockey somewhere and wasn’t too interested in college level field hockey.”
Kieffer grew up playing three sports throughout her high school career which included softball, field hockey and ice hockey. “Ice hockey was my favorite growing up,” Kieffer said. “Just because I was fully submerged in it at a very young age. It was always a big family thing and we all played. Field hockey was something down the road that I would have to be talked into playing.”
Kieffer was not thrilled about field hockey but made the best of it, “I used it as kind of a prep into hockey season, getting into shape with the same skill set so it worked out as my pre-season into hockey season,” Kieffer said. Kieffer chose UC after a great visit set up by former head coach Sarah Elleman. Elleman left UC after the 2015 season to take the head coach position at Stockton University in her home state of New Jersey.
“I was being recruited to play field hockey here and Sarah wouldn’t leave me alone. She called all the time and came to all of our games,” Kieffer said. “She asked me to just keep an open mind so I came for a visit trying to be as open minded as possible and when I got here I liked the feeling that I got from her, the girls and the overall program itself, which made me very comfortable.”
Once Kieffer got a taste of the Pioneer lifestyle, she was all in and her soon to be mentor was truly pleased. The former head coach was absolutely ecstatic when she heard the news about Kieffer taking over her former program.
“I couldn’t be more proud, I have so much confidence in her and I know she will do well with that program.” Elleman may have been excited for her former player but not surprised in the slightest, “I knew she would take this path eventually. On the field she is a true leader, she has a lot of heart and so much passion every time she steps out there.”
Transitioning from college to the real world is one thing, but the transition from playing a sport to running a program is a whole different stage. “Six months after I graduated I was the assistant and six months after that I was head coach.” This is no easy task for anyone, but Kieffer adapted quickly. “Going from a student athlete to an assistant wasn’t difficult and really wasn’t that big of a transition,” Kieffer said. “You’re still not in control as an assistant. At the end of the day, if Sarah didn’t want to do something we weren’t going to do it and vice-versa. Going from assistant to head coach was a whole new level of stress that I’ve never experienced in my life.”
Some aspects of being a coach are more difficult to cope with than others. On the field is one thing, but off it can be more strenuous than meets the eye. “I went from literally a year-and-a-half ago, doing and being the kid that I’m trying to tell my girls not to be. Growing up that fast was the hardest part and my life changed a lot in that short amount of time,” Kieffer said. “I couldn’t be an average 22-year-old. I couldn’t do the things my friends were doing. Something as simple as homecoming weekend; I couldn’t go with my friends which is something I have to be very careful about because all my girls will be there celebrating.”
Kieffer is off and running in her first season as head coach with an overall record of 2-9 and a conference record of 1-4. She couldn’t be happier with her choices that brought her here and plans on staying for as long as she can, “It’s a lot of fun at the end of the day. It’s a lot of stress but it’s one of the best jobs I could have. I get to play for a living, I get to have fun, I get to travel and do all these things when people are stuck in a cubical behind a desk all day and couldn’t imagine if I chose a different path.” Kieffer has a strong vision for this program and plans on building it into a championship contender.