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Catching Up With the Champs: Delaware Field Hockey

Jun 4, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT

As part of the CAA’s continued “Catching Up With the Champs” series, the league recently spoke via email with University of Delaware field hockey coach Rolf van de Kerkhof. Not surprisingly, coach van de Kerkhof was in his native country (The Netherlands) during the Q/A while taking in the World Cup Field Hockey Championships.

The 2013 Blue Hens were selected to finish fourth out the league’s seven field hockey teams during the preseason last August. Sure, the team had plenty of upperclassmen leaders and skilled players, but few knew just how well UD’s freshmen and sophomores would contribute.

Delaware eventually went on to capture the school’s third CAA Field Hockey Championship and first since 2009 after posting a perfect 6-0 record in league play to earn the program’s first regular-season title. The ‘Hens also hosted their first CAA field hockey championship and won an NCAA play-in contest versus Liberty at home.

van de Kerkhof, who might also have the best accent in the league, was named CAA Coach of the Year, sharing the honor with William & Mary longtime assistant-turned head coach Tess Ellis. He became the first UD field hockey coach to take home the league’s top coaching honor and now owns an overall record of 108-62 in eight years as a head coach, including a 34-28 mark during his tenure with the Blue Hens.

CAA: Entering the season last fall, did you have any idea just how good your squad could be? Especially now knowing how much younger players contributed to that success?

RVK: I knew we were talented and could be somebody special, but also that it would require time to develop, developing understanding within team setting regarding individual roles and responsibilities, acceptance of each other strengths and weaknesses. We had a great senior group last season who showed the rest of the team where they wanted to go and at the same time, some of the younger players helped the senior group to find a way to get there. A great team approach, a great team effort and now looking back a great and beautiful team accomplishment!

CAA: If anything, did winning an NCAA game followed by a respectable loss to a solid team humble your team moving forward? If not humble, what exactly did the team take away more from reaching the NCAAs and facing top competition?

RVK: The ultimate goal for each team is to find a way and earn a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Once you have experienced the NCAA, the desire within each player and team only becomes stronger to find a way to return the next season and along the way improve individual and team performance to measure growth and improve performance in NCAA competition the following season. Thanks to our competitive experience in the NCAA’s last season our team realized that they have not only worked extremely hard but have also entered the mix of becoming a top program in the country. You compete in your conference, you win your conference regular season and tournament title and you earn a ticket into the NCAA, this means your hard work is paying off!! The good thing moving forward is that the majority of the players group has experienced what it takes to get there so that should provide opportunities for the upcoming season.

CAA: We know you lost your starting goalie to graduation as well as a couple of playmakers and leaders in Kasey Prettyman, Clare O’Malley and Heather Hartman. Which players have proven themselves already to make a step and fill those voids for 2014?

RVK: Our graduating seniors have done an outstanding job allowing this program to return to the top of the conference and be talked about with respect on the national stage. Our returning players and coaching staff are very thankful for their commitment made the past four and five years. This past spring we have been working hard to develop players such as Allie Mikelson, Esmée Peet, and Marjelle Scheffers to further step up and to become bigger playmakers and go-to players for our program in 2014. We also have been working hard with players such as Maura Zarkoski, Maddie O’Beirne, Meghan Winesett and Morgan Hudson to further develop their game and ability to lead. Overall we should be in a good position come preseason to start our puzzle in putting together the pieces of returning and new players and on how we can further develop and improve our team chemistry, performance, and understanding.

CAA: Speaking of those “young” contributors, how do you expect those players to develop as their careers progress? I.E. Peet, Michaela Patzner, Winesett and others…

RVK: They will be in the position to become even better players than they currently are, but they will have to commit to their own development. As a coaching staff we will encourage, motivate and guide them but at the end of the day they have to progress their careers. I am excited for our young contributors as, if they all make the commitment to themselves and this team, they may be in for a very special Blue Hen field hockey experience in years to come!

CAA: After recently signing a five-year contract extension, how do you personally see the future of the Blue Hens’ program moving forward? Do you feel like your own goals have been met thus far as a coach at UD?

RVK: I am very excited for the Blue Hen field hockey program moving forward. Our Administration and University believe in, and support this program top-notch allowing my coaching staff and I to continue our journey with our motivated and talented group of student-athletes in building, getting better, earning more respect, competing for academic and athletic honors and ultimately contributing to the Delaware Tradition and competing for Delaware Pride. I have a strategic plan for this program in place and in my third year wanted to be competitive in the region and in the conference. My team surpassed my goal and I am humbled to have been able to assist them in not only being competitive but also winning two CAA Championships and representing the University of Delaware in the NCAA Tournament.

CAA: Comment a little about the offseason, spring ball and recruiting. What were some of the biggest challenges facing the team after a CAA title run came to an end in the NCAAs last season?

RVK: The offseason, interesting that you mention the word ‘offseason’ as it seems like there is no offseason for those programs that want to compete for conference crowns and in the NCAA Tournament. Spring was hectic with the crazy weather we have had, we also had to manage a number of small injuries and players coming back from some surgeries, but overall with the players in the position to practice and play we were able to start the on-field development of our 2014 team. Recruiting has been good as we are welcoming a large incoming freshmen class this fall allowing our team to have more in-house competition, develop a depth chart per position and line and also become better balanced and prepared moving forward.

CAA: Did the squad respond as you had hoped in terms of being able to manage and handle that success?

RVK: YES – it has been part of the coaching we have displayed the last couple of seasons, and applicable to each game. As a team we are happy with the win or sad about the loss until 12 o’clock midnight. The next day it is time to refocus and get ready for what is next. Also as we entered a new year (2014), that what the 2013 team accomplished last year is still a great experience but was also last year. In the year 2014 our team has nothing to show for – now does it want to at this moment in time – so we will have to prepare, compete and contribute towards what it is we want to accomplish as a team and program this year.

CAA: The CAA landscape has changed when it comes to conference competition, out of conference play and so on…what are the best aspects of the league and how does that relate to creating or carrying out a tough non-conference schedule?

RVK: The CAA landscape has changed, but the same applies to our daily lives! Everything is constantly changing so I think whatever the change is to see if you can anticipate the change coming and have a plan in place allowing you to create opportunities out of that expected or occurred change. It seems that a tough non-conference schedule will prepare a team to be competitive within the CAA and with that improve the opportunity to compete for the CAA Championship. Again, I believe in case you want to be the best, you will have to play against the best. I believe you will learn from the best, allowing you to get better and close the gap with the best. So one day I know you will be one of the best!

CAA: Coming from a different country where field hockey is very popular and the athletes are perhaps a bit more skilled in some sense, what has the so called “American” style of play taught you personally and has that related to recruiting or development of your own players who come from outside the U.S.?

RVK: I am currently at the World Cup Field Hockey in The Netherlands where they changed a professional soccer stadium into the World Cup field hockey stadium. Every day there will be over 15,000 field hockey fans from all over the world enjoying great field hockey, cheering on their teams and taking in the beautiful World Cup experience!! It just shows you that the sport of field hockey is a national sport in a number of countries outside the US.

So back to the differences between domestic and foreign players, I am looking for synergy in development of my players at the end of the day. I am fortunate that I understand and have experienced that there are great synergy opportunities available between American and European field hockey players. America has a beautiful sports culture where physical and mental are very well developed. I also like to state that the level of American field hockey continues to rise thanks to the development of quality programs for players at a younger age as well as the quality of coaching and playing surface in recent years. The European field hockey cultures are known for their technical and tactical areas. Just imagine in case you bring those four areas together, develop them within one team setting, allow everybody to display their strengths and help others in changing their weaknesses into neutral and eventually strengths. Such a players group can become very successful on and off the field!

CAA: For outsiders who might not understand the “BlueHenStateofMind” motto, what do you think it stands for?

RVK: People, fans, organizations want to be part of something special, they want to experience excitement and doing good… “BHStateofMind” reminds them that the University of Delaware and the Blue Hen Athletic Department and all their programs are working hard and are committed to creating a positive experience and invites people, fans and organizations to be part of the joy, celebration and experience!

CAA: Newark certainly is a great college town with plenty of places to show potential student-athletes, families and even conference teams visiting to play UD. What draws you to the town?/Would you be willing to share some of your go-to spots or off the field activities with us??

RVK: I agree, Newark is a beautiful, safe and an upbeat college town. The town is here because of the University and vice versa, so it is clear that they are in need of each other. You can see what the town offers and what the student and university population need. In a way it is fun to see how well connected the two are together. Although I have a great family and, after a long day coaching the Blue Hens I prefer to go home and spend as much time as I can with them, there are tons of great places to enjoy the college town atmosphere of Newark. After a beautiful walk over the University Green (campus walk), you can enjoy a nice sit down moment at an establishment on Main Street such as a Panera, Cosi, Klondike Kate’s, Newark Bagel and Katherine Rooney’s. You can also find the UD colors and gear and places such as the UD Bookstore and National 5 & 10.

 

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