Coach keeps fight alive for Rutgers
Real passion knows no bounds.
Such limitless spirit can be seen on the sidelines of the field at the Bauer Track/Field Hockey Complex in Rutgers field hockey head coach Meredith Civico.
With her fourth season underway on the Banks, Civico guides the Scarlet Knights through their sophomore season in the prestigious Big Ten Conference while also continuing to build a foundation in a new era for the program.
After leading the team through an inaugural season in the conference where the Knights qualified for postseason play for the first time since 2010, Rutgers won at least nine games in three consecutive seasons since 1999 under Civico's rule.
A highly decorated athlete at Maryland, the Ocean City, New Jersey, native will find herself on the flip side of the field when the Knights host the No. 7 Terrapins this Sunday.
Missy Meharg has led Maryland to eight national championships and 20 conference championships, one of which was won during Civico's time with the program. She was voted National Coach of the Year nine times and is the school’s all-time winningest coach, boasting a .799 win percentage.
Now spearheading a team that will compete against the Terps’ 27-year head coach that she once played under, the impact of Civico’s connections and experience with Maryland is indisputable.
“It’s exciting and I respect Missy as a coach and a mentor and a friend so very much,” Civico said on her alma mater’s head coach and their upcoming matchup. “I think competing against a coach like Missy and a team like Maryland makes us better. They’ve built so much tradition and they have such a strong culture and those are the things that, as a player, I loved about Maryland."
Civico relates the success of her former program to the goals of her current one.
"Those are the things that, as a program, allow them to have success and win year after year — because it’s ingrained in them and it’s the way they are," she continued. "I think that that’s very much something that I’m trying to create here at Rutgers.”
Civico has taken the reigns of a program that is young, but steadily growing under her leadership.
While there are several key areas of focus in building up through these early stages, she finds that success ultimately centers around the intangible aspects of the team and the program that can’t be read on statistics charts.
“We’ve got a really good team culture and I think that that’s really the foundation — if you can get your players to buy in and believe in what you’re doing and to work hard everyday and enjoy it,” Civico said. “I think the fun is such an important part of it. I take a lot of what I learned at Maryland as a player and from Missy and I apply it to what we’re doing here in a lot of ways. You know, I think we’ve got some differences but I mean, I had a great experience there and it definitely — it shaped me into the coach I am and the person I am.”
With the experiences gained from playing under such a consistently successful NCAA field hockey program, Civico adopted a coaching approach that has yielded steadily positive outcomes from her team.
“I think on the field she’s just always really involved in the drills. Even today, we started off with scrimmaging and she was on the field playing,” said senior captain Ali Stever after practice Wednesday. “I think it’s a huge help that she is just constantly giving feedback and pulling players aside and saying ‘In this situation, do this rather than that.’ I think she’s very proactive in her coaching approach and that really allows players to fix things as drills progress.”
As a team, Rutgers has remained positive in its outlook on the season despite its last two road trips, where the Knights took just one win in four total contests.
This unwavering optimism starts with their head coach.
“Even with the losses we had this weekend … she really pushes the team along and she was like, ‘I don’t care about the score, this is what did well and this is what we need to work on,’” Stever said. “She’s just constantly reinforcing that she has ultimate belief in us.”
Every member of the team knows that with their commitment to Rutgers comes a commitment to the growth and development of the field hockey program. While some student-athletes choose schools rich in tradition, these Knights have pursued the opportunity to create their own.
As Rutgers creates their own history as a program, its success will be a direct reflection of Civico’s contagious passion.
“I think that she is somebody that really believes in the program, you know, her head’s in it, her heart’s in it and she’s just in it for us,” said junior defender Sophia Walia. “I think, I mean, the results show for themselves. We’ve had some tough losses but the way we’re building — if people come to our games and watch, we are definitely changed and our program is changing.”
These changes have not gone unnoticed.
“A lot of people want to come here and they want to represent Rutgers and they want to play on our team and I think that is solely Meredith," Walia said. "She really believes in it, she really cares about it and I think that kind of passion really comes out to us. It’s easy for us to drift off if our coach isn’t passionate but because of that passion, we’re in it, you know, for ourselves and for our teammates but also for coaches and just what we’re creating.”
While the team may be on a tough mid-season skid, the future remains bright for the Knights.
Rutgers totaled 29 goals through its first seven games, taking the lead in Big Ten standings in goals scored per game.
“I honestly think that it’s just going to get better and better,” Stever said of the program moving forward under Civico’s leadership. “I see things in my senior year that Rutgers field hockey has really never done before in program history in terms of playing. This year — scoring four goals (consistently) never happened — and the fact that that’s, for the most part, a normalcy or not just a one-time occurrence is an awesome thing to see because that was something that we struggled with in the beginning. I really don’t see the program going anywhere but up under her coaching."
For Civico, she fell in love with a sport, and her dedication to it has been steadfast.
Given the chance to prompt growth and success within her players, Civico is honored to continue her involvement with field hockey in such a groundbreaking way.
“To be involved in the game at this level in the Big Ten as a coach, it’s awesome that this is what I get to do every single day. I wake up and I get to come to work and coach a field hockey team — it’s pretty incredible,” Civico said. “You know, I enjoyed my playing days, but I love being on the sidelines and coaching and having an impact and an effect on these players and seeing them develop and seeing them grow. It’s really rewarding.”
For updates on the Rutgers field hockey team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.