Fresh start for field hockey: “Why can’t we?”

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Fresh start for field hockey: “Why can’t we?”

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The fresh faces of the SLU field hockey team do not only reside on the player roster, but also on the coaching staff.  Head coach Danielle Baumgardner, who served as assistant coach for the last two years, is beginning her first year at the helm of a revamped squad.  Her experience as a two-time national champion in NCAA Division I Field Hockey and her passion for coaching will help bring the Billikens to a new level, both on and off the field.

When Danielle Baumgardner first came to Saint Louis University, she was fresh off an extremely successful career as a member of the field hockey team at the University of Maryland.  She helped her team to four Final Four appearances, three national championship games and two national championship titles.  “I was fortunate to be a part of a field hockey dynasty,” Baumgardner said.

Now, she sits at the head of a team that is aiming for success, growth and a new look on their mission and values as a program.  Her experience as a collegiate field hockey player at a high level and role as an assistant coach are key to carrying this team through the season with the mindset of getting better every day and realizing their potential as a collective.

Despite her success as a player, Baumgardner did not begin her field hockey career in diapers with a stick in her hand and ball at her feet.  Throughout her childhood, Baumgardner had a wide range of experiences in other sports such as basketball, soccer and dancing, but she added field hockey to her résumé later in her career, around seventh grade.

The game that is now her calling was not always her cup of tea, however.  “I actually hated field hockey the first year I played and wanted to quit every day,” she said.  “It was so difficult to hit a small ball with a wooden stick in thick, five-inch grass.”

The parts that she despised most about the game ended up being the reasons for why she now loves the sport so deeply.  “As the years passed, the game became faster with rule changes, technological advances and the increasing availability of artificial turf fields,” she said.  “I think that’s what I love most about field hockey, the speed of the game.  The ball can reach speeds of 96 miles per hour.  Also, since we play with a stick and can only use one side of it, there are so many different skills to use in the game.  The combination of fine motor skills with gross motor skills is unlike any other sport.”

Talent and high-level play constantly surrounded her in those four college years, but what she has learned most is how to use those varying talents to form a cohesive team.  “All of the players that were recruited to Maryland were very talented and successful individual players. There was always a huge role adjustment in order for us to come together and work as a team,” Baumgardner said.  “My role on the team was very different than it was on any other team of which I was a part.  I was never a starter, and my playing time varied dramatically depending on the type of team we played.  This experience, although at times was difficult, has helped me tremendously as a coach.”

Her coaching techniques have already been put to the test this season, as the Billikens started off 2-0 in their exhibition season with 2-1 wins against Missouri State and Lindenwood.

Although they dropped their first two contests on the road to Miami of Ohio and Longwood, Baumgardner and her team are looking at the bigger picture of the season and where the team is heading as a rebuilding program.  “My strong drive, or stubbornness, which helped me to play at Maryland, guides me on a day-to-day basis,” she said.  “Every single day, our team and staff strive to make the program one percent better than before.”

“Our team theme this year is ‘Why can’t we?’” Baumgardner said.  “There has been a stigma associated with the field hockey team in the past that we are trying to change this year, and this phrase reminds us that we can be whatever we set our minds to.  The only thing truly limiting our potential as an individual, team and program is ourselves.  If there is a will, there is a way!”

Baumgardner is not alone in her efforts.  She has recruited two assistants, the most coaches the Billikens have had in the history of the program.  “I have seen so much potential in this program, and I am excited to finally start implementing some changes,” she said.  “We have multiple promotional events at our home games, we’re holding multiple clinics and camps this year, we have a character coach that is working with us, and we are finally playing on a good surface.  I’m extremely optimistic about the future of this program.”

Most of all, Baumgardner’s mission is to serve her team and bring out the best in each of her players.  “I absolutely love seeing individuals recognize their potential and reach it one step at a time,” she said.  “As a coach, I try to provide them with the tools and resources and then step out of the way.  There is room for growth every single day in lots of areas.”

The field hockey team is back in action this coming weekend in Iowa against Fairfield and the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.  Baumgardner and the Bills will be back at Sportport, their new home turf, on Sept. 11 to take on Missouri State for the Salute to Service game.