Hempfield welcomes new field hockey coach

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Wednesday, September 8, 2021 | 3:40 PM


Hempfield field hockey, a program without at least a .500 record since its inception nearly 20 years ago, will look to former St. Francis (Pa.) midfielder Nikki (Snyder) Schmitt this season in the hope of building a winner.

She replaces Michele Fischer, whose teams at Hempfield never won more than one game in any of her eight years as coach and managed a combined record of just 6-67-3 against WPIAL section opponents during that time.

Hempfield is coming off a 1-9 season, but Schmitt said she’s looking forward to a new era. A roster of 30 players, including 10 seniors, was preparing for the Spartans’ scheduled first game under Schmitt on Tuesday at Pine-Richland.

“I was a bit late to the party, but as soon as we got hired, we got started,” said Schmitt, a former high school star at District 2 Lake Lehman and a three-year starter at St. Francis, serving as team captain during her senior season in 2014.

“I’m excited for the season. I know the sport inside and out,” said Schmitt, who didn’t take over as coach until May.

Schmitt, playing then as Nikki Snyder, was an all-state, honorable-mention selection as a senior at Class A Lake Lehman, a northeastern Pennsylvania school in Wyoming County, an area rich in field hockey success.

The sport has lagged in the western half of the state, where in the WPIAL, just 18 schools this season are offering it in three sections — seven in Class 3A, six in Class 2A and five in Class A.

“It’s definitely growing out here,” Schmitt said, “but it’s still a difficult thing for us to have to travel towards Pittsburgh so much. I think I’m pretty lucky to step into this coaching role. It has room to grow, for sure.”

Despite the sport’s lack of popularity in the region, Schmitt has high hopes of magnifying Hempfield’s presence eventually into a possible playoff contender.

She said she hasn’t been concentrating much on other schools, even leading up to the start of the schedule, insisting a priority is “getting to know this team and this team alone.

“It is an incredibly exciting opportunity to be a varsity coach here,” she said.

“I put a lot of stock into high school athletics. It’s very important to me because it provided me an opportunity in college.”

Joining Hempfield and Pine-Richland in the WPIAL’s only Class 3A section are Allderdice, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, Norwin and Peters Township.

While there has been little success in field hockey over the years at Hempfield — the Spartans’ best showing was a 4-6 section mark in 2009 — Schmitt, who teaches learning support at Harrold Middle School, was encouraged by the turnout for her first season.

“I was surprised at how large the senior class is this year,” she said, “and this will be their fourth year together. They represent a core of people interested in the college level.

“We’ve got a roster full of varsity and JV players with good depth at every position.”

Schmitt said she’s been adjusting well to Hempfield, a school with a much larger enrollment than that of her alma mater. She welcomed 10 seniors to camp in August, eventually deciding on a quartet of captains composed of Emmaline Harry, Shannon Lutz, Julianna Paronish and Megan Ritson from among the group.

Other seniors are Taylor Fordyce, Amara Forsyth, Maysoon Idrees, Ashlyn Radocaj, Gianna Stump and Delphine Vandael.

The remainder of the roster includes eight juniors and sophomores each and four freshmen.

Schmitt’s previous coaching experience is brief, having served for two seasons as a volunteer assistant at St. Francis following her graduation in 2015 and for another year as a high school assistant at Hopewell (Va.), south of Richmond.

Her husband Steve Schmitt will serve as an assistant to her at Hempfield.

“This job just kind of fell into my lap,” she said of the Hempfield position, which opened late. “They were looking for a coach and I absolutely intended on getting back into coaching.”

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