WATERVILLE — The field hockey community, Paula Doughty and Marcia Pankratz both agree, can often feel rather small. Yet sometimes, the resulting tight-knittedness can lead to special opportunities.
Pankratz, the University of Michigan head coach, is always scouting the country looking for the best field hockey players America has to offer. Fifteen years ago, that led her to Skowhegan Area High School, where she recruited Zara Saydjari to head west to Ann Arbor.
“Ever since then, we’ve written each other from time to time,” said Doughty, Skowhegan’s head coach of 42 years. “She has a summer home in Aroostook County she’s visiting, so this year, she offered to come down and volunteer to do a clinic for our kids for a day. It just goes to show you how the field hockey community works.”
That clinic took place Saturday at Thomas College, where Pankratz, members of her coaching staff and a handful of players led local athletes in skills and drills sessions. It gave field hockey players from Skowhegan and other schools in central Maine a rare opportunity to learn from personnel at an elite Division I program firsthand.
Participating players took part in two separate sessions, one beginning at 8:30 am and another beginning at 1 pm The drills and exercises, which varied between the two sessions, focused ball control, containment, transitions, fast breaks and more.
The first of those sessions featured only Skowhegan players, as had been arranged by the two coaches. The second was open to the first 80 players across the state who signed up, and those spots filled up quickly after word of the clinic spread across social media.
“There’s so many kids from this area who would love the chance to learn from a coach like her,” Doughty said. “She’s a phenomenal coach; she has the energy, the skills, the whole package. We knew that people would be interested, and in 24 hours, it was full.”
The day was a hot one with temperatures reaching 90 degrees, and it felt even warmer than that on the playing field with Bernatchez Field’s artificial turf trapping the heat. Yet that did little to lessen the enthusiasm of participating players, including some from Skowhegan competed in both three-hour sessions.
“When you get the chance to learn from someone who coaches far away from you and at a different level, it’s great exposure,” said Skowhegan senior Norie Tibbetts. “Our coach learned some new drills, and we learned some new skills. There’s a lot to take away from it.”
Pankratz also stressed the importance of physicality to players throughout both the morning and afternoon sessions. The difference in physicality, she said, is the biggest difference between high school and college field hockey — and something she tries to bring out when teaching younger players.
“I think the biggest thing we try to instill in (players that age) is just to compete with intensity,” Pankratz said. “The players at the next level play with a little more intensity, so you try to teach that. That’s a big difference between the younger kids and the older kids.”
In learning from Pankratz, who has coached Michigan since 1996 with the exception of a four-year stint from 2005-08, players received tutoring from the leader of one of college field hockey’s elite programs. The Wolverines have won 10 Big Ten titles and one national title under Pankratz and were in the national championship game just two years ago.
With 19 Maine state titles and 26 regional titles to her name, Doughty certainly has her own breadth of experience and expertise. Yet coaches are always looking for outside perspectives from their colleagues, and a head coach of Pankratz’s caliber, Doughty said, was certainly an excellent resource.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and you sometimes get in the habit of doing a lot of the same things,” Doughty said. “I try to stay up with the game, but whenever you can get a shot in the arm from someone as spectacular as Marcia Pankratz, it just fires you up and encourages you to do a better job.”
Three Michigan players, all New Englanders, made the trip to Waterville to assist their head coach in the clinic. Players such as Michigan sophomore Alana Richardson, though competing at a much higher level now, aren’t too far removed from their own days playing the high school game.
“If you think about it, I might be in college, but they’re really not that much younger than me,” Richardson, of Massachusetts, said. “To get to help kids who love to play the game is special for us. It’s good to see that field hockey is everywhere and to help it grow however you can.”
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