By Al Mattei


Kristy Hartman may be the most unlikely NCAA Division I field hockey coach in the United States.

When she arrived on the campus of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County in the mid-1990s as an undergraduate, there was no field hockey team on campus, as the varsity team had been disbanded in the 1980s.

"I thought it was unimaginable that there wasn't a field hockey team on campus," she says. "So me and a bunch of other players on campus -- many of whom I still consider best friends -- started a club team. It took off very well, and it grew from there."

She was given the responsibility of head coach of the club team in the late 1990s, then once she graduated from UMBC with her bachelors degree in Information Systems, she pushed the athletic department to give the field hockey program full varsity status, which was attained in 2000.

If this sounds like an unfamiliar journey to a head coaching position, it certainly is a familiar story of perseverance in American field hockey. Hartman won state championships at nearby Severna Park (Md.), coached by Lil Shelton, who is no stranger to having to lean on athletic administrators for funding.

And, it turns out that Hartman is adopting some of the hallmarks of the Severna Park program: ritual, tradition, advocacy, demeanor.

"I think one thing Lil is very well known for is her patience, and, yet, her discipline. In the years I played for Mrs. Shelton, I ever saw her yell. Not once. Ever," Hartman says. "My players know that I don't yell at them, and that if I do, then that's something very serious, because that's not the way I choose to convey my ideas to them.

"They are adults, so I don't have to jump up and down and act crazy for them to know I'm serious about something," Hartman says. "They can tell in my tone, my eyes, and my posture. And that's the blessing in being able to have been of The Lil Shelton School of Hockey."

And Shelton's reliance on ritual has begun to rub off, through Hartman, on the Retreivers' program.

"There's something to be said for the respect of tradition and ritual, and the value that comes with the fact that others have had to work very hard before you to be where you are," Hartman said. "Our players can understand that; my two seniors were here when it wasn't D-I, and they knew people who worked very hard."

Even down to the team photo, taken in the same spot every year: in front of an embankment overlooking the west end of UMBC Stadium, where the field hockey team plays its home games.

"Even though it's the third year we're taking a team photo, when we take our team photo, we take it here, and that's the way it is," Hartman says. "They appreciate that, and understand that I'm doing the same thing here that I've seen Mrs. Shelton did successfully where I grew up."

That embankment, however, was expected to evolve to a degree beyond what anyone could expect; the Washington-Baltimore area was a candidate for hosting the 2012 Olympic Games, a bid that was denied in August 2002.

Under the scenario, UMBC would have shared the field hockey hosting duties with Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins University, necessitating new locker room facilities built into the hill next to the field.

"The opportunities surrounding the possibility of Olympic field hockey being in this area takes our growth rate to another level," she says. "The idea that I could come to work and walk onto the Olympic field hockey field for 2012 is amazing. I could have never dreamt that would be possible."

But until a successful future bid for the Baltimore-Washington region, there is a field hockey team that needs to play on that pitch, and players for which Hartman must compete with excellent programs within 30 miles of the Catonsville, Md. campus. Thus far, the majority of players on the Retrievers' roster are from Maryland, but players have been trickling in from as far as California. With that, the level of play improved from an 0-13 season to a 6-7 campaign in 2001 in which the team was close to a Northeast Conference Tournament berth.

"The whole process has been a whirlwhind, where the growth rate of the skill and competitiveness is beyond expectation," Hartman said. "We have a good group of freshmen coming in, and so that will continue to strengthen. We were able to go from the bottom to a middle rung within a year, and that's exciting."