By Al Mattei


MaryKate Madden knows what she is getting into as the head coach of the new field hockey program at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, located in the shore-area town of Pomona.

She will be obligated to mesh two groups of recruited players; incoming freshmen and other newcomers who transferred from elsewhere, and players who had already taken part in intramural and club hockey before there was talk of a varsity program.

Furthermore, the new Ospreys varsity team would have to venture into some of the most unforgiving territory there is in Division III field hockey: the opposition in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).

It could make for a perfect reality series: alliances formed, then severed over the course of several weeks. New friendships formed, bonds cemented through the cauldron of competition.

But Madden took pre-emptive action during the 2002-2003 academic year at Richard Stockton College to see that the team would be built as smoothly as possible.

"I went through the intramural season with them and told them what to expect," she says. "I took them on conditioning runs, too."

For players who were a year or two away from competitive field hockey, running with Madden was something most of the club players did not expect.

"They complained about my stride a lot: I'm six feet tall and I still work out quite a bit. They didn't like me a lot of times, but they're not supposed to."

Madden's approach to preparation is appropriate, given the Ospreys' obstacles. The NJAC, as made abundantly clear over the last few seasons, is not just about Trenton State/The College of New Jersey. The years leading into 2003 has seen as many as four of its five conference teams invited to post-season play, both NCAA and ECAC Mid-Atlantic.

Madden has been part of the overall rise of the NJAC, having played for Rowan University as it made the 1998 Final Four.

"This is going to be a huge challenge," she says. "I'm anxious because this is going to have to be built from the bottom up, but I am excited in that this is, my opinion, Division III's strongest field hockey conference. To add to that, and to play at that level -- even if it takes us a little while to get to the top -- we're still going to be playing the best."

But if anyone can do it, Madden can. She was coached by some of the best minds in the business. Her scholastic coach was the legendary Bobbie Schultz. At Rowan, her coaches were longtime Glassboro State skipper Mary Marino and Penny Kempf, who guided the Profs to the 2002 championship.

"Most of my coaching style is to really concentrate on the basics and get the fundamentals down, so that they aren't questioned during the flow of the game," Madden says. "The skills are there, but they need to be fine-tuned and the big challenge for me will be to mold the team and create that foundation, create that history. So they're going to be young for a couple of years, but they will be really strong in three or four years because they'll have had that time to mature, and time to get used to that level of play."

And with the skill level of NJAC teams higher than it has ever been, it is even more important to get that skill base in place. And with the type of athlete being recruited in the top levels of Division III, she hopes a few more can come her way though she cannot offer scholarships.

"Kids playing field hockey have been attracted here knowing they could potentially get a lot of playing time early on, versus our conference competitors, which are such powerhouses that they often have to wait as long as in a Division I program," Madden says.