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The Nina Klein Era: Q&A with Quinnipiac Field Hockey’s Head Coach

Courtesy: QU Athletics

Nina Klein is no stranger to Connecticut field hockey, so coming back to coach at Quinnipiac was an easy choice. Klein was announced as the head coach on April 28, 2023. Before that date, she was an assistant and associate coach for four seasons at Quinnipiac before becoming an assistant at Boston College for the 2022 season.  

Klein was also one of the top goalkeepers in the country for the UConn Huskies for five seasons and led the program to three national championships. She led the nation twice in goals-against average to go along with her 87-5 career record and 37 career shutouts. 

Keith Savage sat down with Klein to discuss her career beginnings, her hopes for this season, long-term goals for the program, and more.  

I’m gonna go from the beginning. You were a UConn national champion. Now you find your way at Quinnipiac. How did that happen? 

I feel like as I was finishing my degree at UConn, I just knew that I wanted to coach. I was coaching the summer camps at UConn every summer while I was in college. And then, I mean, I got my master’s in sports management. I thought maybe I wanted to go into facilities management, or something. But then just coaching over the summer, I just grew a huge passion for it. And then, you know, a job opened at Quinnipiac, and I was an assistant for close to five years ago. It was kind of fate, and the timing was fantastic. Because I lived in Connecticut for five years prior while I was at UConn. It’s a beautiful state, and obviously a beautiful stadium and everything that we have here at Quinnipiac. So, it’s a dream come true to be the head coach now, and it’s obviously an honor to lead this program to new heights. 

How was that adjustment going from a player to an assistant coach? 

Well, I think back to being coached by Nancy Stevens (former UConn field hockey head coach), she was one of the greats in the game, she was one of the winningest coaches, and she always said that I was very mature. So I feel like the transition was pretty easy. Just coming in and building those relationships and coaching the girls, it was a very easy transition. And then also, like I said, my young adulthood, my life was in Connecticut. So the move wasn’t too much, either. And it was just great timing for everything. 

What do you think you learned the most here as an assistant? 

I would say, the first couple of years, I learned a lot about just program administration from Becca (Main, former Quinnipiac field hockey head coach) in terms of all the ins and outs of what happens behind the scenes, because as a player, it’s very easy to just show up and the food’s there. And you show up for games. And that’s that, but now it’s like actually looking at it from an internal perspective, and learning all of that was definitely critical.  

Over at Boston College for a year, how much did you grow as a coach just from that one year? 

I want to account a lot of my growth to Kelly Doton (current Boston College head coach). She’s one of the greatest coaches in the country right now. She definitely helped me see recruiting from more of a business perspective, I would say just making sure that we’re bringing in top-level recruits, especially if we’re paying good money for them to come here. I think that’s one thing I definitely took away. But also, Boston College always has a prolific offense. So, I think taking those principles that I learned on the field with her and applying them here at Quinnipiac is going to be critical to our success in the next couple of years. 

When you heard Becca Main retiring, did you think, “Hey, maybe I can come back to Quinnipiac?” 

Yeah. I feel like it happened so fast. But then it also felt like it took so long when I was up. I was still in Boston, and the news broke. And I just laughed, it was, you know, within the last year, and as soon as I heard about it, I was like, “wow, that’s a tremendous opportunity”. And it would be a little ridiculous not to throw my name in the hat. Obviously coming from the associate head role and then making the move to Boston College, but I was just so excited when I heard the news, but also being respectful of Becca and her final months as a head coach, being here for over 27 years and building this program into what it is. It was exciting and I’m just very grateful to be in the position that I am right now. 

What was that call like between you and Becca when you got the job? 

Just utter elation on her part because I treat this like her baby. She literally, from 1995 onward, built this program into what it is. Obviously having the stadium is amazing, and all the resources that we have here, but I think it was it was definitely a relief on her end because she wanted to pass it on to someone that she knew would take very good care of it and have the passion and drive to bring it to the next level. 

Talking about Becca’s growth, and Division Two to Division One, to NEC, the MAAC, to the Big East. What are some goals that you have, like how Becca’s had so much growth, what are some goals you have as head coach of Quinnipiac? 

I’m very driven and I’m high achieving, and I want to make sure that every year we’re getting better in any aspect possible. I would say a big goal is obviously to make it into the biggest tournament, and that would be a program first. Secondly, I want to advance through the Big East tournament, and if you win the tournament, you get an automatic bid to the national tournament. Those are definitely goals in the first three to five years, who knows if it could happen sooner than that or later, but it’s definitely something that’s on my mind. Obviously being an athlete who was able to win national championships on the field, but now as a coach, I want to bring that to Quinnipiac, and you look at our men’s ice hockey team, it’s possible. It’s not like it’s a far-fetched idea. We just have to bring in the right people and do the right things on the field. 

Let’s talk about your assistant coaches. What was the reasoning behind picking Abby Lucas and Madison Skeie? 

Abby is fantastic. She’s just really driven, and the team enjoys her company so much. She is a tremendous goalkeeping specialist. But I didn’t want to pigeonhole her, or put her in a position where that’s all that she’s doing. This season, especially, she’s been working a lot with our backfield players and helping with letting structures and break down defense. So that’s been fantastic. And obviously having some UConn blood, having that trust and loyalty, is one thing that I looked for when I was rounding out my staff. Then Madison Skeie. She’s a Providence alum, she was at Johnson and Wales and completely flipped that program on its head, bringing them to a conference championship. Then being at Monmouth, which is also a nationally ranked program yearly, within the top 30 to 25. She’s just fantastic. She’s been helping our forwards and, and helping our pressing structure, but I feel like I’ve been working with her for years, which is very refreshing. And we’re just very connected. And I’m just excited for what we’re going to build together. 

Talking about UConn overall, and Madison, she and Sofia both got that win against their former team. How much would a win against UConn mean to you as we’ve never seen it here at Quinnipiac before? 

It would be a program first and I can confidently say this is a year that I think we could get it done. The Huskies are struggling a bit this year and we’re just gonna put together a game plan that we hope is super competitive. And we’re contending for that. It would mean the world. Last year when I was at Boston College, we took them to double overtime and then we lost in the shootout. So as a coach, I have never beaten UConn and it’s definitely something that’s on the to-do list and the next couple of years. 

Going on, what are you looking for in the Big East games now you already have one under your belt? 

We’re just taking it game by game. I think every game is exciting and our team gets up for every game, so I love that. The energy yesterday on the bus, and when we got there, it’s definitely difficult to get it on the road, especially your first Big East game and then my first Big East game as a head coach, but I think staying focused on the next. Yes, UConn’s exciting, but we have Villanova before that, and I think we just need to stay focused on literally the next minute, hour, or day ahead. 

Going back to the year you were gone, were there any players in particular that made you go, “Wow, this is a big growth between that just one year”? 

I honestly think about Stella Tegtmeier, she came in and I knew there was potential there and now she’s co-midfielder of the year, and she’s really hit her stride in her final season. So, she’s definitely someone that I’ve seen a leap with. And then I think Cristina Torres is getting better as our goalkeeper, and she’s only a sophomore. In my opinion, goalkeepers and field hockey tend to really hit their stride later on in their careers. So to have her as a sophomore and she’s already competing? That’s awesome, and very exciting for us. 

How does it feel coaching the goalkeepers now? 

It goes back to the staffing question, I brought Abby in to really have a lens for the goalkeepers. I was a goalkeeper myself, but I just knew as a head coach, I wasn’t going to be able to give it the dedication that I had hoped to. So she’s been doing a fantastic job with the three of them and they’re a super connected unit. And it’s just great to have Abby because I have taken more of a backseat role with the goalkeeping, now that I’m the head coach and trying to think about every possible scenario and situation.

Going back to Cristina, Stella, and you got Emilia (Massarelli) and Micaela (Grajales). You saw Coach Main always try to get those international players. What are some things you’re going to try to do to land some international players? 

It’s definitely a goal in the first year to go on an international recruiting trip. There’s one set in December in Argentina, there’s also another one in the Netherlands. So I would say that’s definitely a goal for us moving forward. But you know, I think it’s exciting to have internationals on your team for a couple of reasons. One is just the amount of time that they play the sport. So, most internationals pick up the stick when they’re like two or three. Unfortunately, our youth system in America isn’t as developed. So just having that more seasoned player is something that we obviously look for. And then just what it brings to our team culturally, like I had plenty of international teammates, best friends for life, summer in Germany and Holland and beyond, but it’s just a really amazing dynamic to introduce that to our team and to be able to share cultures like that. 

You talk about knowledge with international students like Micaela Grajales, and you always see her during the challenge, what is the trust you have with Micaela to make sure to make those plays like that, and the trust to even challenge a play? 

She’s our speaking captain. And she does a fantastic job usually, she sees the game and she’s able to make a quick decision to use it, and it is fantastic that we have a video referral here. It’s full trust in general with our team obviously, Micaela is fantastic at calling video referrals. But like, yesterday, when we were at Providence, we verbalized a corner and just said, “call it yourself, we trust you”. So, it’s having that ongoing trust with your team to know that they’re going to make decisions and you’re not on the field with them. And there’s only really so much we can do from the sidelines. Just instill that with them. 

How crucial are the captains on this team specifically? 

It’s insurmountable there. I mean, you think of Olivia Howard and Julianna Capello, and, and Micaela, they’re just, they’re driven. And they’re hardworking. They set the standards for practice every single day, and I love working with them. They make it enjoyable and fun. But they’re also so driven, and they want more, and they want to be better. I just love their leadership styles, they all complement each other very nicely. It’s a great environment to be with a first-time head coach back here and having a leadership group that I feel is very, very strong. 

First two games we saw the first few losses, but now three straight wins. How do those wins all feel right now? 

It’s great, but I, to the unfortunate nature of my brain, I’m always thinking the worst-case scenario. So I’m always trying to plan ahead and figure out what we can do to maintain that success. And obviously, we have the potential to do some amazing things this season. But as I said earlier, we just need to prep them for the next moment, the next practice, and keep them in that present mindset, rather than thinking about, like we don’t need to be thinking about UConn, we need to be thinking about this practice. And then we’re gonna move on. And towards the end of the week, we’re thinking about Villanova. So, it’s great, and I’m excited. But there’s a lot of work to do, especially if we want to see ourselves in the tournament at the end of the season. 

So with the Nina Klein era officially started, what should we expect from this era? 

I would say I have a vision. I know what can happen at Quinnipiac. And I mean, you look at men’s ice hockey, and even Cass (Turner) what she’s doing with women’s ice hockey, and Trish (Fabbri) with basketball and beyond. Like, I could mention a whole laundry list of coaches here. But it’s just really exciting with the stadium, the resources, everything that we have here. I just want to build something very special and also make it an environment where everyone wants to come back, or it’s just not long enough. Because, I mean, I love what I do, and it’s exciting. It’s a new era, but it’s also making sure that we’re doing everything in our power to put this program on the map because we have what we need. 

Talking about the coaches, did you get any phone calls or congratulations from other coaches at Quinnipiac? 

Yeah. So, Tanya (Kotowicz) with lacrosse reached out, Becky Carlson with rugby, and Cass (Turner) with (women’s) ice hockey. I mean, there was there was a lot of texts. And I think that’s fantastic. And then it’s also just having an extensive network outside of Quinnipiac, like Nancy Stevens still texts me after every win, which is really nice and refreshing, and I still have a really good relationship with Kelly Doton, too. We were going back and forth last night after the Providence game, because they just beat the University of Virginia and they had a big win. So, I think it’s just nice to have that community and that sense that people do care about what we’re doing and, and they want to support us. 

How do you want to grow the game of field hockey not only here at Quinnipiac, but in the Hamden community? 

The big thing that I think of early on is we can have the ability to do youth days. So we’re gonna partner probably with HTC, which is a local field hockey club, bring them out that can do a little halftime game and, you know, hang out and watch amazing young women out on the pitch and just be inspired. I think that’s definitely something, and then we run clinics pretty much every month. That’s one way that we really hope to grow the game and bring people to campus and see how beautiful Quinnipiac is. 

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About the Contributor
Keith Savage
Keith Savage, Associate Producer: Sports Paws, Field Hockey Beat Reporter
Keith Savage is a Sophomore Journalism major and a Spanish minor from South Boston, MA. He is currently an Associate Producer of Sports Paws and the beat reporter for field hockey. He is the host of “Come Talk About Sports” on WQAQ 98.1 FM Radio. Savage is also a contributor for The Quinnipiac Chronicle and Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network.

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