Pearson coaches beyond winning
Head coach enters 16th year guiding the Polar Bears
The Polar Bears just keep on rolling atop the Division III field-hockey world.
After beating Middlebury in overtime last Saturday and Williams on Sunday, they improved to 6-0 and seemed poised to make a run at their fourth NCAA title in five years. The defending national champs, who also boasted the third-highest grade-point average in all of DIII, are ranked No. 2 in this week’s NFHCA Coaches Poll.
“I’m excited about the performance of our returners,” said Nicky Pearson, who is in her 16th season as head coach of the Polar Bears. “We have 14 returning players and they worked hard over the summer. That coupled with eight first-years, I’m excited about that prospect.”
The team is made up primarily of New Englanders, not surprising since Bowdoin is in Brunswick, Maine, but also boasts players from New York, Maryland, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
“There are pockets of exceptional high school field hockey around the country and we try and ultimately find the best players, irrespective of where they’re from,” Pearson said.
“We’re always trying to tap into every area of the country.”
One of the players who came a long way is senior Elisabeth Clegg, who is from Hudson, Ohio.
“I love playing field hockey,” Clegg said. “And this is such a fun team and Nicky is such a great coach, so I love every minute of it.”
Clegg’s older sister went to Colby, also in Maine, which is also in the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference).
“She had such a great experience. And I knew I wanted to play field hockey and lacrosse and I looked at NESCAC schools and just really fell in love with Bowdoin and I’ve had a great experience here,” Clegg said.
“You can’t play two sports in Division I, so that’s why I looked at Division III and Bowdoin was a perfect fit for me.”
It’s been a great fit for Pearson, too. The native of Hereford, England, has parlayed field hockey into a career in America.
After college she traveled the world and while in America Pearson was offered a job as an assistant at Connecticut College, where she stayed three years. Then she went to Amherst for a year as a head coach, moved to Yale for two years as an assistant and became the Bowdoin head coach, taking an already outstanding program to new heights.
Bowdoin won it all in 2007 and 2008, becoming only the fourth team to ever win back-to-back DIII field-hockey titles, and then won again last year, beating Messiah in penalty strokes after regulation and two overtimes.
“It was the most incredible feeling ever,” Clegg said. “You can’t even describe it, it’s just so awesome.”
Accordingly, does that make for a load of pressure this season?
“I don’t think so,” Clegg said. “I think our team focuses on every practice and every game and our league is so competitive and if we don’t focus on every practice and every game anything can happen.
“We really don’t focus on the bigger picture but on getting better every day.”
She laughed when it was suggested that sounded like something her coach would say, but perhaps that’s why many of Pearson’s former players have gone on to coaching careers, including Gillian McDonald, now head coach at Hamilton; Julia King, head coach at Wellesley, and her current Bowdoin assistants, former All-Americans Kate Leonard and Marissa O’Neil, played for her at Bowdoin.
“To be honest, I consider the ultimate compliment to the program,” Pearson said. “If after four years they leave having a deeper affection for the sport, that’s marvelous.”