Zach Thomann, Sports Editor
Current head coach and former player for the Pioneer field hockey team Nicole Kieffer is nearly as young as her players, but she has had a great deal of success in a short amount of time.
Kieffer graduated from Utica College in 2015 with a degree in public relations and sports management. She helped the team to three Empire 8 conference championships and two trips to the NCAA tournament as a player and is eighth all time in assists at Utica. She also holds the school record for most assists in one game with four.
After becoming an assistant in 2015, Kieffer was appointed as the interim head coach the following year when Sarah Elleman took a job at Stockton University. Her quick rise to head coach has had some challenges.
Kieffer is only a few years older than most of her athletes which is uncommon. She has seen positives and negatives as a young coach.
“Sometimes it’s hard because my athletes can forget that I’m their coach,” Kieffer said. “But other times it is nice because we connect and I understand what they go through.”
Kieffer believes that if she coached anywhere else, things would be different between her players.
“Half the team knew who I was before I even became the coach,” Kieffer said.
This has helped create a family atmosphere for the team where Kieffer thinks of herself as a surrogate mother during the school year. She keeps tabs on how her athletes are doing in classes and makes sure they keep a proper diet.
Being a second mom and preparing for games makes being a coach challenging for Kieffer.
“People think that coaching is simple,” Kieffer said. “I’m not just responsible for winning games, but also taking care of 25 athletes throughout the school year. It’s something that is hard to realize until you become a coach.”
Kieffer hopes that her hard work this season will put her in position to become the permanent field hockey coach at Utica. She is currently considered an interim, but doesn’t believe that the title changes anything or how she coaches.
“It’s not a big deal,” Kieffer said. “It’s just something that has to be there by law.”
Kieffer plans to stay with the program and move forward. Her goal is to make her athletes better every day and learn from their losses.
Kieffer was ecstatic to start this season 2-0 and considers that her favorite moment as a coach so far. She hopes to make more great memories which include winning the conference championship and making it to the NCAA tournament.
“Everybody works so hard, and I think we can get back to that point,” Kieffer said. “They deserve to be there.”
Being successful as a coach would mean more to Kieffer than as a player because of the rewarding feeling that goes along with her job.
“It’s great to see someone who has struggled in the past do well and understand what I teach,” Kieffer said.
Kieffer likes to call these instances “Proud mom moments.” She believes that the school molded her as a student and an athlete, which makes her feel like she needs to give back.
“I’d give up all my ability and knowledge of the game if it meant that I could give it to someone else,” Kieffer said.