Even though she played at Syracuse University and has been head coach at Haddonfield for almost a decade, field hockey wasn’t always part of Lindsay Kocher’s athletic career.
“I actually played soccer growing up,” Kocher said. “One day, my mom came home and told me she signed me up for field hockey for the rec league in Collingswood. I was not a happy camper. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve always played soccer and I’ve never tried field hockey. Why are you signing me up?’ She just wanted me to try it. I was in sixth grade and didn’t really like it, but I stuck with it.”
Kocher decided to stick with the sport through middle school and high school, and 20 years later, it’s pretty easy to see Kocher made the right decision.
Her Haddonfield squad finished this season with a 21-2-1 record, just one win shy of the previous two years combined, and advanced to the state championship game. Because of her team’s success, Kocher is the 2015 Courier-Post Field Hockey Coach of the Year.
“I think a lot of them, especially the seniors and the juniors, really got a good taste of getting a chance to play in the playoffs last year,” said Kocher, a 2001 Collingswood High School graduate who is 131-43-8 in eight years as Haddonfield’s coach. “They were left with kind of a bad taste in their mouth losing in overtime strokes against Maple Shade.
“We never really talked about it (this year), it was just one of those unspoken things where they didn’t want that to happen again. Our motto this year was just kind of take one day at a time and try to get better each day, and I think they stuck to it and did a great job.”
The successful season marked the program’s best since 2011, the last time the Bulldawgs appeared in the state final, and featured a 13-game unbeaten run. The team allowed two or more goals just twice this season and averaged less than a goal per game on defense.
Though the Bulldawgs are always a competitive team, it’s still safe to say this season came as a surprise, especially considering the offseason they endured. Three of the team’s key defensive weapons graduated and senior goalie Sophie Alberts suffered a serious knee injury.
“That was a little nerve-wracking,” Kocher said. “Starting in the summer, we told them, ‘Every position is available,’ and they all worked really hard to try and find positions. We just did a couple shifts with some players.”
Rallying behind Kocher’s motivation and teaching, many players took on new roles and fresh faces joined the fray. Ella Dengler, who Kocher called poised and focused, flourished in her freshman year while Tirzah McMillan, a transfer from Woodbury, provided depth.
Perhaps the biggest of them all was freshman goalie Megan Maynes, whose journey into field hockey somewhat mirrored her new head coach’s. Coming into high school, Maynes never played field hockey and didn’t even understand the basic fundamentals of the sport.
Kocher was Maynes’ gym teacher for three years prior to her entering high school and she talked the former soccer and lacrosse goalie into making the transition.
“I was like, ‘Just try it. Just come to camp, put the pads on, we’ll shoot some balls at your head and then see if you like it,’” Kocher said.
Maynes said Kocher helped her translate her strengths from other sports into field hockey. With the support of Kocher and her teammates, Maynes went on to post 139 saves, including 17 in a 3-0 loss to Shore in the state final.
It’s just another success story fueled by Kocher’s love for the game and players along with her passion for helping people. She attributes a lot of it to many influences, including all of her athletic coaches over the years and most importantly, her parents.
“I get wrapped up in a lot of things and get frustrated with myself and get emotional during games, so she told me just to take a deep breath and to play my game,” said Meghan Smart, the team’s leading scorer this season. “I think she brings out, not just the best in me, but in everyone. She’s always there to support us no matter what. She knows us on a different level than I think other coaches know their players.”
Heading into next year, Kocher knows her team won’t fly under the radar like it did for much of this season. While she obviously hopes the team follows 2015’s blueprint, wins aren’t her only goal.
“As long as we’re working and trying to get better every day,” she said, “I’ll be OK with that.”
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