From Great Britain to Garber Field, new Massachusetts field hockey assistant coach Shannon Taylor is poised to make an immediate impact in Amherst.
The Midlothian, Va., native is fresh off a campaign with the United States national team at the 2012 London Olympics, which saw what most consider to be the biggest win in the country’s field hockey history: a 1-0 upset of No. 2-ranked Argentina, won on Taylor’s goal late in the first half.
She said the Olympics “were a great experience,” and that it was “amazing to be able to represent the country and to also get to meet all the other athletes that excel in their sports.”
UMass coach Carla Tagliente, a seven-year veteran of international play and a member of the national team that qualified for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, echoed Taylor’s sentiments after witnessing the London events firsthand.
“Surreal,” Tagliente said. “The energy over there and having the best teams in the world all competing in the same venues … It’s just a special event. To have ex-teammates still playing and have Shannon playing as well, that’s just a bonus.”
Tagliente also pointed out lessons she wants her team to take from the U.S. squad.
“Staying together and focusing on the process,” Tagliente said. “That’s something we talked about a lot last year in that we set our goals this year to achieve certain things, but it’s a process in getting there.
“It’s difficult in the Olympic Games because it’s one tournament and you’re so focused on the results, but there’s still a process involved in that you have to [concentrate] on the bigger picture,” Tagliente added. “Staying together through all the ups and downs of the season, because there will be a number of ups, a number of downs.”
Taylor’s road to the Olympics was paved as a result of a standout collegiate career at Richmond and Syracuse. She led the Spiders in scoring in 2005 and 2006, when she was named the Atlantic 10 Field Hockey Offensive Player of the Year.
After redshirting in 2007 to attend Team USA’s training program, Richmond’s all-time career points record holder transferred to Syracuse where she continued her success, winning the Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player award en route to becoming the Orange’s only field hockey alum to play in the Olympics.
Despite the change of scenery, one thing remained constant: Taylor was always a pest for UMass.
When asked about two notable three-point performances, including a two-goal night to eliminate the Minutewomen from the NCAA tournament in 2008, Taylor recalled the resiliency of her A-10 rivals.
“Once you’ve played a team a lot of times, you get to know their habits and their tendencies and that’s where you start to pick a team apart,” Taylor said. “Speaking from experience, playing [UMass], they were that blue-collar group that always worked hard and you could never underestimate them because you knew they were going to fight for all 70 minutes.”
Taylor’s experience and knowledge of the game are factors that Tagliente welcomes to her staff.
Tagliente said that the chemistry of the team won’t be any different than in previous seasons. But, she noted that Taylor’s Olympic experience will bring something unique to the squad.
“She brings a level of competitiveness and outside perspective,” Tagliente said. “It’ll be really good for this group to have her around.”
In Taylor’s first two days of practice, a natural chemistry has emerged with Tagliente as well as assistant coach Roz Ellis.
The team has reacted extremely well to Taylor. Senior co-captain Callie Sweigart said the Olympian is a perfect fit.
“Shannon’s definitely added some spunk to the coaching squad,” Sweigart said. “She’s right on task with what she means and what she wants done.
Sweigart said Taylor “is really good at getting into small details and figuring out what we need to work on. She’s intense.”
Junior Lindsay Bowman is well aware of Taylor’s intensity in practice. Taylor slapped a ball that hit the inside of Bowman’s foot, injuring her for the night.
There weren’t any hard feelings though. Just respect from player to coach.
“She’s very intense and I like that. I think that’s something we need,” Bowman said. “A lot of us take her advice to heart. She harps on being precise, diving for the ball and having fun.”
Peter Cappiello can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cappiello.