Nancy Cole, head coach, Centereach (N.Y.)
One in an occasional series.
By Al Mattei
In the midst of Suffolk County on Long Island, there are two high schools four miles apart, upon which one woman has an extraordinary effect.
Nancy Cole coached the field hockey teams at East Setauket Ward Melville (N.Y.) and Centereach (N.Y.) to the tune of 500 wins over more than 30 years. She attained her 500th career coaching victory at Ward Melville on Oct. 14, 2004, but earned 471 wins and legendary status at Centereach.
Cole had been one of several prominent field hockey coaches who stepped away from the game at the end of the 2001 season, but the only one who has stepped back onto a high-school sideline.
"I retired and found out that I didn't like it," she said of her decision to coach Ward Melville.
Nancy Cole is legendary for her ability to make her players better. No matter what year, no matter whether the team was blue or green, no matter what the makeup of the team, she was able to get her teams to work together like few others.
How well did they work together? Consider that the unofficial name of the Centereach field hockey team were the Ants. The logo on most clothing worn by Cougar players, staff, and fans of the team not only shows the name of the team and crossed field hockey sticks, but a silhouette of a stylized ant.
The principle is that a single ant cannot do very much by itself; it can often get squashed underfoot if seperated from its colony. However, a whole colony of ants working together as a team can do great things.
It's a principle Cole is still teaching now at Ward Melville. Watch her team during any game, and the players use and trust each other as well or better than any other anywhere.
Her teams have reaped rewards: six New York state championships, plus an extremely gratifying return to the state Final Four in 2003 in snowy Syracuse.
Several entries in the National Federation record book have the name "Centereach" next to them; some belong to the Fuchs sisters -- Jill, Lauren, Dana, and Tracey. All four were named varsity team captain, all four impacted the field hockey world far beyond Suffolk County -- even to the point of being named U.S. captain.
Denise Nasca, a tremendous attacker at the close of the 1980s, also had set national records before embarking on a college career at Northeastern University. And more recently, top 2001 graduate Colleen Barbieri became the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year at the University of Maryland.
For Cole, Centereach field hockey isn't a pastime. It's a passion. Numerous stories about about Cole's enthusiasm, her enjoyment of the game, and the positive relationships built with her players.
Talk to almost any Centereach graduate playing field hockey collegiately, and their faces beam when the name Nancy Cole enters the converation.
This includes those former Centereach players who now coach on Long Island. It is fitting that Ward Melville beat Centereach for Cole's 499th win, and Farmingville East Sachem (N.Y.) for the 500th win. Both teams are coached by former Centereach field hockey players.
"She's got a bag of tricks and always pulls out the right one," Sachem East head coach Tina Moon told Long Island Newsday. "She's a great role model. After the game we laughed when I said it had to be against me.".
And Centereach is being coached by another Cole disciple, Laura Melfi.
But it will be a while before either get to Cole's number of wins, as she is the sixth scholastic field hockey coach to get to 500, but the first to do it while coaching at more than one school.