MIDDLEBURY — Successful Middlebury Union High School field hockey coach Kelley Higgins has decided to step down after seven years, citing family reasons, and one of her former players, 2007 MUHS graduate Megan Sears, will replace her.
Higgins’ résumé includes the 2011 Division I championship, a trip to the final in Sears’ senior year, and semifinal berths in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Overall, her teams compiled a 56-39-19 record while playing in the Metro Conference, by far Vermont’s toughest league.
Higgins said she has loved coaching the young women on her teams, and would be happy continuing to do so if not for family conflicts this fall.
“In a perfect world I just need a sabbatical,” Higgins said. “I feel I’m not done with coaching field hockey forever.”
But this fall her oldest daughter, Kate, will be a captain for her St. Lawrence University field hockey team, and her husband, Chris, will be working a new job that will often take him out of Vermont.
Higgins said she wants to attend parents’ weekends for all four of her children (Sara, Christian and Conor will also be away at school as well as Kate), “be a captain’s mom for Kate,” and be free “to spend some time with (Chris) when I can.”
Even with all that weighing on her, plus a desire to take the time to pursue a full teaching certification, it was not easy for Higgins to walk away from the Tigers, and she is leaving the door open to returning at some point in the future.
“It was a really hard decision because I love the team. I always do no matter what the configuration of the players is,” she said. “It truly was a decision based on my family.”
Higgins believes the schedule will lighten up in the spring, and at this point she intends to keep coaching the Tiger lacrosse team that she has led to back-to-back D-I finals.
“I need to take this fall off. I’m still planning to coach lacrosse,” she said.
A final factor in the decision, she said, was Sears’ willingness and availability to step up to the varsity job after two years leading the Tiger JV team.
“Megan is going to be great, and I did not walk away from it without knowing there was someone like Megan to take my place,” Higgins said.
MUHS Activities Director Sean Farrell agreed with Higgins’ assessment. Although the position was posted internally to Addison Central Supervisory Union employees, as required by the district-wide contract, with Sears expressing an interest it was not advertised to the general public.
When no one stepped forward, Farrell said he moved quickly to make final Sears’ promotion.
“Hiring from within was more beneficial to us, having a known entity, and Megan does a great job,” he said.
Sears, a 2011 University of Vermont graduate who is also a certified girls’ lacrosse official, said she had hoped someday to be a varsity coach, but had not expected it so quickly.
“This is definitely a pleasant surprise,” she said.
Sears said she caught the coaching bug while working at Middlebury College field hockey coach Katharine DeLorenzo’s camps.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Katharine gave me,” she said. “It was such a rewarding experience … That kind of jump-started my passion for coaching, I’d say.”
Sears believed her two years at the JV level have prepared her for the varsity job, in part because she has worked with almost all of the players who will be on this fall’s roster.
“I am (ready), and I say that without hesitation,” she said. “I will have coached all the girls from all three of the upper classes … and seen their progress as players and as persons … I am really thankful to have that experience before becoming the varsity coach.”
Those two years have also prepared her to work with teams experiencing different levels of on-field success. Her first group won just once, while her second team won eight times despite losing several key players to the varsity as the season progressed.
But more critical than the results, Sears said, are the intangibles.
“My goal is for them to work hard, have fun and to play together. And I think of those three having fun is the most important,” she said. “Whether or not you’re successful is a direct result of that. When you have a group of people together having fun and enjoying what they’re doing, no matter what it is a positive experience. And I hope this season every one of the girls has a positive experience.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.