Karl Lindholm: Middlebury's virtuoso coach
So, on her way to a graduate degree in Music Performance, she got waylaid ... and became a coach instead. She traded in her violin for a whistle:
And now Katharine Perry Delorenzo is Middlebury College’s virtuoso field hockey coach, and her athletes play beautiful music on Kohn Field in the fall.
Those athletes and their families and fans are certainly grateful for that change of heart nearly three decades ago. On November 19, Coach Delorenzo led her team to its second national championship in D-3 field hockey in the last three years, soundly defeating defending champs Messiah, 4-0, in Louisville, Ky., and in doing so avenging last year’s loss to Messiah in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Katharine was a violin performance major as an undergraduate at Goucher College in Baltimore, while playing three sports (she’s in the Athletic Hall of Fame there), and then headed off to Indiana State University for graduate school in music, intending to be a professional musician or educator (like her mom, a pianist).
“I agreed to coach in order to pay for grad school in music,” she explained. “But as soon as I stepped on the field as a coach, I knew what I wanted to do. I changed my major from violin performance to athletics administration!”
Stops at Oberlin (she played in their famous Music Conservatory) and Skidmore as head field hockey coach preceded her arrival at Middlebury to take over the program here after Missy Foote stepped down to focus on lacrosse (Missy’s team in 1998 also won a National Championship).
Field hockey at Middlebury has an extraordinary record of success. Next year will mark its 50th year as an intercollegiate sport at the College. In 38 of those seasons, Middlebury has been led by just two coaches, Foote and Delorenzo, and the winning percentage over 49 years is nearly 75 percent. (Katharine’s teams are 266-60, .816 winning percentage).
In her 17 years, Katharine has earned many honors: NESCAC Coach of the Year twice; twice also the National Coach of the Year. Her teams have earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for 15 consecutive years and played in five National Championship games.
When asked if when she arrived in 2000 she thought she would be here for 17 years, she answered with an unequivocal, “Yes. I knew this was where I wanted to be.”
She knew that she had a remarkable team this year. “I told (coaching colleague) Bill Beaney before the season that this was the best collection of players I’ve ever had. I had greater confidence than ever in match-ups on the field, player by player, position by position, all 11 spots.”
IN HER 17 years coaching field hockey at Middlebury College, Katharine Delorenzo has shown herself to be a scholar of the sport; she relentlessly focuses on preparation for each game.
Photo by John Sommers II/Middlebury Athletic Department
She installed a new system of play for the team this year, away from a conventional 3-3-1-3 alignment to a 3-2-3-2, in order to “utilize certain players on the field to best effect.”
She showed me at length how this system worked to great advantage — and when she saw my uncomprehending look, offered to show me film of some games to see it in action. She’s a field hockey proselytizer.
She explained that her style and approach, her “philosophy,” if you will, is “always evolving,” but “preparation” is central: “Luck favors those who are prepared,” she said. “With clarity comes motivation.”
“College sports teach that a superb level of preparation will not result in winning every game but will put you in the best position to win.
“We don’t talk about winning; we don’t talk about losing, we talk about playing the best possible game ever. Sometimes that leads to championships, sometimes not.”
Katharine’s teams watch a lot of film. There’s video of every team, every game; the video gets downloaded and clipped. Players watch in a group and individually. They all have “field hockey notebooks” in which they note tendencies in the play of their opponents against whom they will be aligned.
Of this cerebral approach, Katharine enthused: “I never had a team that was so geekily into it.”
Her players confirm their coach’s dedication to the game and one another. Sophomore Kelly Coyle summarized, “Every game became an opportunity to play better, and I thought our championship game was our best game of the season. Our team is very close and I think that translates on the field.”
Senior Audrey Quirk agreed: “Our feats epitomized Coach Delorenzo’s tireless dedication to this sport and love for this program. As she reminds us every season, ‘The reward of a job well done is having done it.’”
The NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and All-NESCAC First Team selection Lauren Schweppe, a senior captain, added, “De Lo is more than a coach to her players — she always emphasized fulfilling our potential as people and not just athletes.”
Katharine considers herself a “Vermonter.” Her dad was in the Navy (on nuclear submarines), so the family moved frequently. They maintained a home, however, in Richford, Vt., on Lake Carmi.
Her parents moved recently to Middlebury to EastView Retirement Community. Katharine promises there will be Sunday concerts with her mom.
More beautiful music to come, then, from Middlebury’s virtuoso Coach Delorenzo.