SUSAN BUTZ-STAVIN: GETTING WITH THE PROGRAM
By Al Mattei
Susan Butz-Stavin is a rare find in field hockey -- the 500-win coach. Indeed, she was one of only six members of that exclusive sorority at the end of 2003.
Her Emmaus (Pa.) teams have been consistently excellent over a coaching career that is nearing 30 years in length. And those teams have flirted with the extreme edges of perfection -- both on offense and on defense. Once, her yielded a single goal over the course of an entire season -- a pretty good feat in Pennsylvania, where teams have been known to play as many as 40 matches in a season.
She sat down with The Founder a scant few months before embarking on her 2002 campaign, one in which her team would rack up 188 goals -- the most in the recorded history of the National Federation. The amazing irony is that the team would not win the Class AAA state championship because of an opposing goal less than two minutes from time.
Our converation, held in the umpires' lounge of the 2002 National Indoor Tournament, was a little hurried, so it was hard to gain the singular insight into what makes the Emmaus program so good.
But on further reflection, the lack of a singular insight -- a single key aspect -- is probably the Hornets' greatest contribution to field hockey.
After all, if a team is that good on defense, and that good on offense, there's only one thing you can do -- lose.
Call them The American Hockeyroos.
After all, the game is field hockey, and the colors are green and gold like the multiple gold-medal winning Australian women's national team.
And the head coach spent part of her formative years in Australia. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.
The young women who have been wearing the uniform of Emmaus (Pa.) for the better part of three decades have forged a legacy in the Allentown area and in the state of Pennsylvania which are unmatched, thanks in large part to legendary head coach Susan Butz-Stavin.
The team won 13 straight District 11 championships in Class AA and Class AAA over the years between 1989 and 2002. The team has six Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championships, more than any other school.
One reason for Emmaus' dominance in District 11 is the fact that, for a while, only a single District 11 team would make the state tournament, putting an emphasis on the need to win every match instead of accepting a loss somewhere along the line because the district might send multiple teams to the PIAA Tournament.
"Sometime in the 80s, they did add a second team," Butz-Stavin recalls. "But there's that extra pressure to win that semifinal game. We always go into that game with the most nerves because anything can happen. Sometimes, in field hockey, the better team doesn't always win."
But in 2002, Emmaus embarked on a new journey. The cozy East Penn Conference merged with part of the Lehigh Valley Interscholastic Athletic Association to form a 12-team conference that limited the Hornets' out-of-conference competition.
"The unfortunate thing about that was that the teams we played our of our conference made us what we are during the season," Butz-Stavin said. "We would go out and pick up good schools; we want to be tested during the regular season so that we are ready for the playoffs. The unfortunate thing is that now we're only going to have four open games."
The journey on which Emmaus embarked in 2003 is not unlike the journeys that Butz-Stavin took in her development as a field hockey coach.
She is one of the long line of coaches who have been exposed to the West Chester State College (now West Chester University) work ethic, but she might have been its most unusual example.
She quit playing after her first year -- "a very small fish in a very big sea" is how she saw her time there -- but kept active in the sport through umpiring until the Nether Providence School District in Wallingford, Pa. needed a field hockey coach.
Butz-Stavin then left the United States entirely for a different experience -- a year abroad.
"In May of 1975, I went to Australia to teach school and to coach field hockey and netball," she says. "When I came back, the East Penn School District and Emmaus High School needed a field hockey coach."
She took over for Ginny Huber, who had been with the Emmaus program since it started in 1960. In 1974, Huber had won the first PIAA District 11 championship in 1974 and had taken the Hornets to the state final which ended in a goalless draw. Emmaus, however, lost the championship on the antiquated "penetration time" tiebreaker.
When Butz-Stavin was offered an interview for Huber's job, she had just come back from Australia with a slight twang in her voice and no expectation that she would get a coaching position of this magnitude.
"There's no way," she upon getting the offer. "I can't live up to that kind of expectation."
But she did, despite a few seasons where her players had to get used to a new system of play.
"They were used to the old five-man front, three backs, two backs, and a sweeper," Butz-Stavin said. "We also trained differently, doing long-distance running and the kind of back-and-forth running we now call 'suicides.'"
It took three or four years to get her team to believe that the 4-3-3 system could prevail, and by the time the 90s started, all of that hard work was starting to pay off.
"In 1990, we lost a really tough game in the quarterfinals," Butz-Stavin says. "We were so close, and we came back the next year really mad."
Starting in 1991, the Hornets have taken their revenge, winning six state championships in 11 years. Indeed, Emmaus has been so powerful -- especially in the second week of the state tournament -- that they were undefeated in the semifinal and final rounds between 1991 and 2001. In other words, if the Hornets managed to survive the third Saturday in November, the Hornets would be a cinch to win.
Emmaus teams over the years have been as different as they could be. Some years, as was the case in 2002, her Hornets won with offense. Other years, they won with defense, as was the case in 1997 when her team gave up a single goal all season -- and that was in the final minute of a state quarterfinal match.
Occasionally, Butz-Stavin could be blessed with a number of quick and skilled players, but at other times, she had large athletic players whose physicality was such that broken sticks littered the sidelines after state tournament matches.
The team has won the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship six times. But consider that there are more field hockey teams in Pennsylvania (more than 300 including the non-PIAA schools) than in any other state in the Union, and it is indeed a rare achievement.
"I think it's because we take pride in what we do, starting from the grass roots," Butz-Stavin says. "Our middle-school program is coached by our varsity kids, so we have role models upon role models upon role models. I can remember all these kids coming down the pike with their own train of players looking up to them. And our indoor program has supported the whole thing."
Given the talent that has come through Emmaus' doors, it's almost inconceivable that Emmaus has not won more titles. Take, for example, alumna Cindy Werley. She played in the 1996 Olympics and for three NCAA champions at the University of North Carolina. She also was the TopOfTheCircle.comPlayer of the 1990s.
"Cindy was a very special person; her work ethic and demeanor were things I had never seen before," Butz-Stavin said. "She wanted perfection; she would get madder than a dog if she didn't win a sprint race. Nobody would play harder or tougher in a game than Cindy."
Even rarer: how about having more than one player at a time in the national team pool? For a time, Emmaus alums Autumn Welsh and Kristen McCann played together on the national team.
Coming soon, however, could be the trimverate of Laree Beans, Jen DeAngelis, and Jill Civic, all of whom contributed to a record team scoring output in 2002.
That day, however, is yet to come. Until then, there's more work for Butz-Stavin to do.