The United States Coach of the Year: 2005
Robin Woodie, Stafford (Va.)
An assortment of good coaching storylines permeated the 2005 scholastic field hockey season. Some coaches brought out the extra effort that players didn't know they had. Others took individuals that were already at an elite level and turned them into championship teams.
A few teams had record-breaking offensive outputs. There were some unforgettable playoff and state championship victories. And there were other instances when coaches left an imprint which could eventually grow to be larger than they ever imagined.
One coach did all of those things, which is why Robin Woodie is the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year for 2005.
Woodie took Stafford (Va.) to the 2005 Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class AAA championship in a state where it is very difficult for a team outside of the Virginia Beach area to win.
The reasons for Stafford's victory come by looking at its head coach's personal field hockey journey. The journey starts with the examination of a forgotten field hockey legacy.
In 1982, Woodie and an intrepid group of players from West Virginia Wesleyan College won a Division III championship sanctioned by the Eastern Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. The 1982-83 academic year was the last known year of EAIAW championships -- the NCAA had wrested full control of women's athletics from the AIAW by then.
"It turns out," says Woodie, "that we all came from New Jersey. When we played the likes of Immaculata and Bryn Mawr at the national tournament at West Chester, we recognized a lot of players on the other teams and said, 'Didn't I play against you in high school?' "
Woodie played her field hockey at Buena (N.J.) Regional, which did not have the championship history of nearby schools like Ocean City (N.J.). But throughout college, Woodie proved herself to be a tremendous defender on the Division III level.
"I had to go against her every day in practice," says WVWC alum Missy Bruvik, the school's all-time leading scorer, who played her high-school ball at Princeton (N.J.). "She was relentless."
Woodie got married after college and moved back to New Jersey, taking the helm of Absecon Holy Spirit (N.J.) for two years.
But when her husband Ken took a job coaching football in northern Virginia, Woodie found herself in a strange and different area in the country.
"I was arguing with him because the field hockey there wasn't as strong as it was in New Jersey," she recalls.
She took an assistantship at Alexandria Hayfield (Va.) for two seasons, all the while having her two daughters, Danielle and Missy.
By 1993, however, she took the position of head field hockey coach at Woodbridge (Va.), a suburb 10 miles south of Alexandria, near Quantico (Va.), where her husband was the football coach.
"And you know, stupid me," -- here she elongates the "me" to plant her tongue firmly in cheek, "I didn't know that people there really didn't know their field hockey."
For five years, Woodie provided the best possible education. In the 1990s, Woodbridge was the only school in the Cardinal District that had a field hockey team, making it pretty much an outsider when it came to the rest of the Northwest Region. But that meant her Vikings could play an entirely independent schedule, preparing them for the postseason unlike any of their rivals.
In Woodie's second season, Woodbridge was drawn against Commonwealth District powerhouse Stafford (Va.) in the first round of the Northwest Regional Tournament.
"We hadn't been playing all that well," Woodie says. "but our first-round game in the district tournament was against Stafford. We beat them, which kept them from going on to the regional championship and the state tournament. And beating Stafford was a pretty big deal."
Within four years, Woodbridge made the eight-team Class AAA tournament as one of two qualifiers from the Northwest Region, but that 1995 win over Stafford was the game that defined Woodie's ability to get a team to focus and to believe.
But in 1998, Woodie would take the head coaching job at what was becoming Woodbridge's main postseason rival -- Stafford. At the time she accepted the job, there were only two high schools in Stafford County. When she arrived, there were three. And by 2005, there were five.
Suburbia had followed Woodie to, for lack of a better word, "ex-urbia." Shopping centers have cropped up at almost every freeway exit on the way to Fredericksburg. The landscape, carved up by bulldozers, screams "sprawl."
This rapid growth extended to the Stafford County public school system. There were more schools in the district, and more students in each school, which grew the available player pool.
At the same time, Woodie began indoor and recreational field hockey programs, both in Stafford County and in nearby Spotsylvania County, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.
In fact, it was because she wanted to see daughters Danielle and Missy develop in the offseason that Woodie began recreational programs in the region.
Programs with names like High Voltage and Spartan Elite have not only her daughters (Danielle plays at Division I Longwood College and Missy just missed out on a Class AA state championship at Fredericksburg Chancellor in 2005), but a host of athletes playing at a much higher level than many of their counterparts in the state.
Indeed, high-school teams in both Stafford County and Spotsylvania County are beginning to match the intensity and passion of the Virginia Beach-area teams, which had won 13 straight state championships between 1989 and 2001.
"They love the game," Woodie says. "And because they love the game, they are participating in it more and more. You can't expect to pick up a stick in August and compete with a Cox or a Princess Anne."
Under Woodie's coaching, Stafford missed qualification for the state tournament only once between 1998 and 2005. And, like her teams at Woodbridge, Woodie's Stafford team would test itself against the best of the Virginia Beach area.
But there was something different about the 2005 team -- something which showed itself fully 10 months before the season began.
"We have a game ball, which is signed and handed over to a player who inspired them over the course of the next game, and at the end of the season the ball, full of autographs, is given to one player," Woodie says. "After the 2004 season when we lost in the state semifinals, our junior captains said, 'We need to hold onto this ball. We're not done. We have unfinished business.'"
That business meant some impressive early wins in 2005. Stafford took the two-day Sun Devil Invitational at the National Training Complex at Virginia Beach with four wins. And if the tournament final -- a 2-1 decision over defending state champion Virginia Beach Princess Anne (Va.) -- didn't put the Indians on the state's field hockey watchlist, its performances leading to the state championship certainly did.
Quite simply, no other team in America showed as high a quality of play against such a high quality of opposition than Stafford did in its 2005 postseason. After coming through their district tournament cleanly, the Indians won the Northwest Region convincingly. The one signature game in the preliminary rounds was a 13-0 win over Woodie's former Woodbridge team in the semifinal "tipping point" match which qualified the Indians into the state bracket.
Stafford dispatched Culpeper (Va.) in the Northwest final, only to learn that its opponent in the first round of the state tournament would be 13-time state champion Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.), a team which was having its finest season perhaps in a decade. But Stafford was unfazed, holding the high-scoring Falcons to one shot in the second half, allowing the Indians to get a late goal from the stick of corner striker Lindsay Shacklette.
The Indians could have looked past its next opponent, Fairfax W.T. Woodson (Va.), but there was something different about this 2005 team.
"This year's seniors were very focused," Woodie says. "This was the one team that never looked beyond who they were playing."
Stafford met 2003 state champion Woodson one day after the Cox thriller. Although Woodson was one of the most skilled teams in the state, the Indians were able to post an overwhelming 4-0 shutout.
That win led to the final, played the very next day against three-time titleholder Princess Anne.
In other words, the road through the state tournament for Stafford meant having to defeat three teams which had won 14 out of the last 16 state championship titles on consecutive days. Which they did.
"Every team we played was a state champion at one point in time," Woodie said after the Indians' 2-1 victory over Princess Anne in the state final. "That made it all sweeter."
The program has progressed past the point of teaching, and into the creation of a winning culture, one which the motivation is not just competition, not just numbers, and not just respect.
"You can demand, and have high expectations, but you've got to have the clay to work with," says Woodie. "And they definitely are the clay. They're just awesome young ladies."
EPILOGUE: The 2005 National Festival in Florida was a serinidipitous reunion for Woodie, for she came across Bruvik, her former teammate at West Virginia Wesleyan, for only the second time in the 22 years since graduation.
Woodie's daughter was on the U-19 High Voltage team, while Bruvik's daughter, Kelly, played for one of three Spirit Eagles youth teams.
"It was like college all over again," says Bruvik, who has been the coach at Princeton Stuart Country Day (N.J.) for two decades. "Kelly is a forward, like me. And Missy is a defender, like Robin."
"I named my daughter after Missy: I always thought it was so cool that someone so competitive and so athletic could have the name Missy -- even though her name is actually Maureen," Woodie says. "It fit."
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Gloria Byard, Glassboro (N.J.): Former women's national team player turns fortunes of her alma mater in just four years, getting to state title match for the first time in 30 years
Christine Carroll, Falls Church Marshall (Va.): Not only did she guide the Stateswomen to their first league title since 1976, the team also qualified for the VHSL tournament for the first time
Kim Elmore, Carlsbad La Costa Canyon (Calif.): A year and a half after legendary coach Ellie Minor died, she took the Mavericks to the San Diego Section championship.
Elvetta Gemski, Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.): Even though she was part of the teachers' union, she did not abandon her team when school district went on strike for three weeks in mid-season
Nancy Goodwin, Clayton (N.J.): Got small-school team into state tournament for the first time
Danyle Heilig, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.): In winning her seventh straight state championship, pushed unbeaten streak to 153 matches, plus coaching influence started spreading into other programs.
Kenneth Humphreys, Middleburg Notre Dame Academy (Va.): In one season, got a 1-12 team to the semifinals of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament.
Lauren Mazziotto, Chapel Hill (N.C.): U.S. indoor national teamer came in two weeks before the start of the season and got her team to believe they could beat old nemesis East Chapel Hill and did so, then won state public-school title
Julie McGraw, Bennington Burr & Burton Academy (Vt.): Took a team with two regular-season wins to within 26 minutes of a state championship.
Lynn Powell, Patuxent (Md.): Took program which was less than a decade old and brought it to Class 2A state final
Tracy Parchen, Putnam Valley (N.Y.): In school's fifth year of existence, guides team to state championship
Mollie Reichard, Basking Ridge Ridge (N.J.): Brought program first sectional title and first state title game appearance in just her second season
Jenna Zava, Baltimore Overlea (Md.): Piloted moribund team to first winning season in 15 years