Nichols Next to Follow Wasps’ Legends
Hannah Nichols, the new Woodstock girls field hockey coach, rallies her players before the fourth quarter of the Hartford at Woodstock girls field hockey scrimmage in Woodstock, Vt., on August 27, 2013.
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Woodstock's Madison Schulz, a freshman, lunges at the ball during the Hartford at Woodstock girls field hockey scrimmage in Woodstock, Vt., on August 27, 2013.
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Woodstock — Asked if she feels pressure to succeed as the varsity field hockey coach at Woodstock Union High School, Hannah Nichols didn’t mask her true feelings on Tuesday.
“Absolutely!” she said with a smile and laugh. “With this program, how could you not?”
Nichols has a point. Only the third Wasps coach in the last 38 years, she follows the legacies of Yvonne Frates (1975-94) and Wendy Wannop (1995-2012).
A New England field hockey and Vermont Principals Association hall of fame inductee, Frates won eight Vermont Division II titles in her 20 seasons before Wannop stepped in and captured three — including a pair of undefeated campaigns — while toting a career record of 198-74-16.
Nichols, who doubles as Woodstock’s girls lacrosse coach, also has quite a field hockey resume. A 1980 Woodstock graduate, she played for center back for Frates and at Middlebury College and has coached either the elementary or middle school programs in Woodstock during 12 of the last 14 years. In 2005, she co-founded the Team Vermont indoor field hockey club, which has qualified for USA Field Hockey’s national indoor tournament four times. Nichols has even dabbled in officiating, becoming a certified VPA referee from 2010-11 before returning to the sidelines to coach Woodstock’s middle school team last year.
“I just missed this. I love this,” Nichols said Tuesday while watching her team prepare for a home scrimmage against Hartford. “There’s something fantastic about being with a team and watching them ‘get it,’ asking them to push themselves just a little beyond their limits every day.”
It’ll be a fairly new cast pushing themselves this year for the Wasps, who have as many returnees, seven, as they had graduation losses a year ago. Leading scorer Delaney Little (5-3—8) and midfielder stalwart Samantha Harrington (3-3—6) are among the departures.
Top returners include co-captains Taylor Smith and Liz Kamb, who combined for nine goals last year, as well as senior Hannah Tobey (4-1—5). Juniors Clancy Farrand (3-2—5) and defender Holli Olson are the lone additional returners.
Twelve freshmen are in the Wasps’ program, many of whom will swing between the junior varsity and varsity programs, Nichols said. At least four will be varsity regulars, including three projected starters in back Loretta Blakeney and middies Mariah Luce and Sarah Yates.
Freshmen Lily D’Anna and Lily Doton are also expected to see significant time subbing for Smith and Farrand in the front.
“The good news is that the future looks bright,” said Nichols. “We used to have a policy of no freshmen on the varsity team, because it’s such a big step up just for them to be getting into high school without having to worry about (playing on a varsity team). But because of declining enrollment, we just don’t have that luxury anymore. So some of these girls are going get thrown into the deep end, right off the bat.”
Woodstock’s captains think that’s a good thing. The Wasps were 8-7-0 and struggled to score a year ago, netting just 1.8 goals per game with six shutout losses, including a first-round playoff exit at Mount Abraham. Smith and Kamb feel the incoming freshmen have the tools to help the team’s scoring punch.
“We have to be more intense,” said Smith. “We can’t be playing ping pong out in front of the net, which we did at times last year. When we have a chance to shoot, we have to shoot.”
Added Kamb: “We need to be more aggressive, and the good thing about all the young players coming in is that they have the skills. They definitely have the capability to score; it’s just a matter of getting them to be comfortable shooting the ball.”
While many of Woodstock’s newcomers were mentored previously by Nichols at the elementary or middle school levels, adjusting to her systems and schemes will be a change for the Wasps’ veterans.
Wannop employed a “long ball” approach to the game, emphasizing fast transition and firing the ball down the field as quickly as possible. Nichols prefers short passes and possession-oriented schemes.
“It’s definitely a different style, but it hasn’t been a real hard transition,” said Kamb.
Added Smith: “One of the biggest things, for those of us who have had Wendy for a long time, is just some of the different terminology. Wendy used to always say, ‘Go to the ball!’ whereas Hannah says, ‘Step! Step!’ when she means the same thing. So some of (the different terminology) is something we’re still getting used to.”
Wannop, who admitted it’s strange not to be preparing for a new field hockey season this time of year, said she and Nichols also have plenty of similarities.
“The short passing has worked excellent for her with the indoor team and at the middle school level, and I’m sure it will work for the varsity team,” Wannop said in a phone interview. “Other than that, we’re not terribly different coaches. I’d say she’s a lot like me in terms of our expectations for the players.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled that she’s the one coming in and taking over for me. The girls are going to be very well-suited with her.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.