Knerr steps up and field hockey team starts strong

“Carol is such a great fit with our team this year,” said co-captain Molly Jacobs ’04. “At first, I was a little anxious to have a new coach for my senior year, but Carol has stepped up and assumed her new role beautifully.”

“It’s only the beginning of the season, but I can definitely say that there’s no one I’d rather have to coach my senior season,” Jacobs continued. “Our team has a lot of potential and I think Carol is absolutely the person to bring it all together.”

A passion for the sport

A passion for the sport

Though this is Knerr’s first year as head coach of the field hockey team, she’s been involved in the sport much longer. She started playing both field hockey and lacrosse in seventh grade, and her passion grew from there. Knerr’s older sister was her partner in athletic pursuits, and the two helped fuel each other’s passion for both sports.

Knerr took her field hockey and lacrosse talents to the University of Richmond, where she was a four-year starter on both teams and finished her career as a two-sport captain, allowing her to gain early leadership experience.

After graduating with a degree in leadership studies and a minor in sports science, she began turning her sights towards coaching. “It was a gradual process. I don’t think I woke up one day and said ‘I want to be a coach.'”

With her collegiate playing days over, Knerr decided to give coaching a try, landing field hockey and women’s lacrosse assistant coaching positions at Dartmouth College. Her experience there helped to stimulate her interest in coaching. “We had very successful seasons [at Dartmouth],” she said, “and I worked for two amazing coaches. They really helped me realize that coaching was something I wanted to do.”

Knerr felt that Div. III was more conducive to her own coaching goals. “I feel passionate about both sports and coaching both sports, and at the Div. I level that’s almost unheard of. NESCAC is a particularly appealing conference because of the academic strength of the colleges and their competitive athletic programs.”

So after a year-and-a-half at Dartmouth, Knerr arrived at Amherst and became assistant coach for both the field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams under Christine Paradis, head coach of both sports at the time. Paradis is taking the field hockey season off this year, but will return as Knerr’s assistant next fall. Paradis will continue as head coach of the women’s lacrosse program with Knerr as her assistant in the spring.

“We felt that after a few years, because of her strengths as a coach, it would be appropriate to reorganize titles.” said Director of Athletics Peter Gooding. “[Coach Knerr] is not only a very bright, academically trained person, but she’s also very experienced in [field hockey]. I think she’s a very compelling young coach.”

The titles, though, don’t seem to matter. Knerr and Paradis have been learning from and feeding off each other since day one. They are a coaching unit, and have worked extremely well together in tandem. Last spring, their concerted efforts helped guide the women’s lacrosse team to its first ever national title.

“It’s a very positive relationship,” says Knerr. “I think we work well together. We work hard to combine our knowledge and experience to create the best team that we can.”

Gooding concurred. “I think that as a team [Knerr] and [Paradis] make a very good combination. The field hockey program should be in good shape.”

The process

The process

From both her own playing experiences and the coach she has worked with, Knerr has developed a distinctive coaching philosophy. “My coaching style is built around my own experiences as a player as well as influences from former coaches who I have played for and worked with,” Knerr said. Thus far, she has installed a new, more offensively-minded system, involving a 3-2-3-2 formation, tailored specifically to the team’s own personnel.

Jacobs sees this as an example of Knerr being “very in tune with each player’s strengths and weaknesses and always know[ing] the best way to capitalize on them.”

Knerr also brings many intangibles to the team. “I try to … push the players to work hard on the field to learn the technical points of field hockey while also developing the intangible qualities of being a responsible student-athlete and competitor.”

Having players work hard in the off-season is extremely important to Knerr, and she makes sure they do so by starting off the season with a timed mile and a half run. From this early test, Knerr not only gains a concrete idea of the players’ fitness levels but is able to start cultivating those intangibles in her team. “[After the run] we’re already closer as a group because we went through something hard together,” she says, and adds, speaking more generally, “I want the players to leave the program feeling like they were part of something where they were pushed to achieve something as a group.”

And Knerr, along with her assistant coaches Julie Zoolkoski and her volunteer assistant coach Gerri Bresnahan, practice what they preach. “We’re busy all day,” Knerr said. “We don’t want to be outworked by anybody.” Knerr and her assistants even travel great lengths to scout opposing teams: last week, they headed to Tufts to scout the Jumbos, whom they played that weekend. “I definitely feel lucky to have really good assistant coaches.”

Knerr is also pleased with the team’s work ethic. “[We’re all] working hard on the field and working hard off it, doing everything we can to prepare the team,” she said. “So far they’re responding, and we’ll keep going.”

She also believes strongly in maintaining lines of communication by scheduling individual meetings with her players and meeting her co-captains every Friday for lunch. The players appreciate her efforts. “I feel like Carol has a good connection with the team off the field,” Jacobs said. “Personally, I can say that I always feel understood and taken care of.”

Knerr’s remarks emphasize how much she cares about her players. “I want to feel like my players really grew through the whole process-that we played good field hockey and improved throughout the season,” she said.

“The most important thing is the process,” she adds. “I want us to feel like we did a good job in the process.”

Off to a good start

Off to a good start

In terms of wins and losses, Knerr’s tenure has begun successfully. Last Tuesday, the Jeffs defeated Wellesley College 2-1, and followed that triumph with their first conference victory, 1-0 over Tufts.

For Knerr, it’s more than wins and losses that make a successful season. “[Our players] have been outstanding,” said Knerr. “They’ve been hard-working and motivated.” Of course, Knerr still wants her team to be successful, and she’s aiming to guide her squad to the conference championship.

“I’m definitely loving it. It’s challenging and, like my players, I continue to always be a student of the game,” she said “We’re in it-we’re doing our best and trying to see what happens. Part of being on a team is you have your whole season, and anything can happen.”

But Coach Knerr won’t be leaving anything up to fate. She’ll continue to work hard herself and to push her players.

“I want more than anything for my players to be successful,” says Knerr, “and for them to be part of something they enjoy.”