GILBERT, Ariz. — After several years of planning and consideration, the University of Saint Joseph, a liberal arts college in West Hartford, Connecticut, has decided to add a field hockey program to their athletic department.
The University of Saint Joseph was historically a women’s college, but became coeducational in 2018, and is a welcome addition to the field hockey community which got its start through the women’s colleges over 100 years ago. American field hockey’s founder, Constance Applebee, toured women’s colleges in the Northeast in the early 20th Century, gradually introducing the game to students and faculty. Comparatively, USJ’s introduction to field hockey will be anything but gradual. The athletic department hired Karen Nell earlier this year and next fall, the Blue Jays will step onto the field to compete in their inaugural season.
Nell is excited about the quick timeline and has jumped right into her dual role as the head coach of both the field hockey and lacrosse programs, working hard to recruit players to start something exciting at USJ. “Thankfully there are already students on campus who want to join the team and some of our lacrosse student-athletes are willing to compete on the field hockey team in the fall,” said Nell who is already training a group of field hockey players this spring.
While her intrinsic goals of promoting a positive, competitive, and engaging environment for every student-athlete align closely with the University’s mission, her coaching philosophy is one that she has molded throughout her career. “Defense first,” she says. “I believe a good defense is an important place to build from, we’ll work on establishing a solid defensive presence and quality goalkeeping and develop from there.”
Nell joined USJ after 12 seasons as the head coach of the New Fairfield Public Schools where she won a Class S State Championship and amassed a 148-76-24 record. Nell was employed as a physical therapist specializing in neurology and sports medicine. “After many years of balancing coaching with another career, it is truly a gift to start the USJ program,” said Nell.
Nell also works with a youth field hockey program and officiates throughout Connecticut — these connections have helped her identify potential USJ players. “Officiating allows me to see players who may not be playing in a club program but are still interested in continuing their field hockey career in college,” noted Nell. “I can also lean on my Connecticut connections to help spread the word about our program and the benefits of a USJ education.”
According to their website, USJ was established in 1932 as the first liberal arts college for women in the Hartford area and evolved into a vibrant educational complex that still adheres to its original vision of a steadfast commitment to preparing students for insightful leadership and service to others. Nell hopes that field hockey student-athletes looking for a unique learning experience on a beautiful campus will consider joining her program, especially if they are a junior or senior still looking for their field hockey home.
The Blue Jays will step on their newly constructed field hockey/multipurpose turf field — installed by AstroTurf — next year to compete as a NCAA Division III program and as the tenth field hockey program in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC). Along with their GNAC-scheduled contests, Nell hopes that her team will be able to get at least 14 games on their 2020 schedule.