The VCU field hockey team will be traveling to Philadelphia, PA this weekend to participate in their first Colonial Athletic Association championship since 2003. Sporting an overall 13-6 record and a 5-3 conference record, the team is entering into the tournament with their second most victories since 1990. VCU enters the post season having won 10 of their last 13 games.
The Black and Gold punched their ticket to the tournament on October 24 with a 4-1 win over William & Mary. As the fourth seed, the Rams will play the number one seeded Drexel on Saturday at 12:00 p.m.
Before the team heading north, VCU Athletic Communication Graduate Assistant Mollie Wallace caught up with head coach Kelly McQuade to discuss the upcoming weekend, her first tournament appearance as a head coach and much more.
MW: What were some of the goals you set for your team at the beginning of the season?
KM: The first goal that came into my mind at the beginning of the season was getting to the CAA tournament. However realizing that at the time, my goal might have been better served with getting a young team to perform more consistently. This team went above and beyond my expectations for them. They have really put together a stellar season so far, while this goal has always been at the back of my mind I can tell you that I was trying to be a little bit more realistic about it but every game it just kept getting to be more and more of a possibility. So the fact that everything has just come together is just a dream come true. These girls have really done a tremendous job this season. I think we have gone above a lot of team's expectations of us as well so it has been a really fun position to be placed into.
MW: You have been at VCU for four seasons, three of them as head coach, what are some of the changes you done that have contributed to this turn around?
KM: I try to establish accountability. I had one of our girls come up to me last week and say that we haven't had any "punishments" this year. The past couple of years we have had to drag a couple of our kids along kicking and screaming. If you haven't gone to study hall or you missed a meeting, that it is a punishment for the whole team. This year we haven't had to do any extra punishments because everyone is doing what they need to do off the field. I think that once you have established a good level of accountability and professionalism off the field it just helps that much more on the field.
MW: Not only did you guys clinch your spot in the CAA tournament against William & Mary but you also beat your mentor Peel Hawthorne. How much did that victory mean to you?
KM: Especially for Shannon and myself, I think that William and Mary has been one of those games that we have wanted so badly. Peel has been my mentor on and off the field for so long. She was my coach for all four years and I coached with her for two years. She has been my mentor for ten years and I still call her up to ask her questions. Peel is one of the most selfless, humble, and amazing people I know. It is great to have those people in your life that even though you are fighting for the exact same thing, they are still going to be proud of you and that is so important. It was a bittersweet moment because when I played for William and Mary, VCU never beat us. So as an alum, it was hard but as a coach I couldn't have been happier because I am trying to turn this program around. It was a really exciting thing to do. Peel was so graceful with the loss and was just so supportive. It was a great moment and I think that it was one that she shared with us. That win was very fun and rewarding.
MW: How does it feel to be heading to your first CAA appearance as a head coach?
KM: It was been a lot of disbelief. I keep asking, how many wins do we have? What is our record? It is such a drastic improvement over the past few years. This is unknown territory for us, so we need to make sure that we are taking care of the girls. Making sure that they aren't getting all wound up and bottled up and freaked out about something like this. This whole week, we are trying to make an actual experience out of the trip. We have wanted to keep the atmosphere light. We are trying to encompass how we have been working hard all season but at the same time not putting too much pressure on the girls. For me, there is a lot more pressure but I am trying to stay loose as well. I've been trying to take every moment this week and enjoy it. Trying to stick to what has been working all season and not change anything just for postseason. We have approached this week just how we have approached every other week.
MW: You play Drexel at 12:00pm on Saturday, how do you feel going into this game and what have you guys done to prepare?
KM: Patricia Stauffer said it best; "There is an upset every year." And that is very true. I think its hard to beat a team twice especially in this conference. The level of competition is so tight and close right now that I think that it could really be anybodies game at any time. So that is exciting. We are trying to not let the girls fixate on the last time we met but tell them to think the overall process and how much we have changed since the last time we played them. We've improved and grown up since the last time we faced each other. Just looking at Saturday's game, I think it is going to be a great fight. It going to be a really fun game and I am excited about it. It is another game and lets go through it.
KM: I think they have always been leaders. They were more of quite leaders their freshman year. They are two fantastic young women. Outside of hockey they are just terrific people. They lead by example and they have the ability to change the momentum of a game. In these past four years, they have developed more than I could have imagined both as people and as players. They have just stepped up their game so much. Marle and Flore work so hard and have just done so much for our program. These girls could not be more deserving of the fact that in their senior year they are going to the CAA tournament.
MW: Who will be the player to keep an eye on during the CAA Tournament?
KM: I hope that Marle has a fantastic tournament. I hope that she comes out and has her way with people. She has the ability to make people look silly out there and I hope that she does that this weekend.