MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union High School has picked its successful field hockey coach to replace its girls’ lacrosse program head, who resigned last week after four seasons that included one Division I title.
Cornwall’s Kelley Higgins said she agreed to take over the lacrosse team on relatively short notice because several team parents and many athletes — at least seven of her varsity field hockey players also took the field for the lacrosse team in 2010 — as well as MUHS officials encouraged her to step forward.
“That just gives you a good feeling to know that you are wanted,” Higgins said. “I was happy to be asked and happy to have the support of the returning players.”
Those athletes were her primary motive for signing on.
“It’s just a great group of young women. I feel really lucky I get to coach them,” Higgins said.
MUHS activities director Sean Farrell confirmed on Feb. 3 that Higgins would take over. Farrell said that Harriette Brainard had recently stepped down after her teams compiled a 57-16 record and won the 2008 state title.
“After much discussion with Harriette she has chosen to resign as the varsity girls’ lacrosse coach,” Farrell said in an email. “We appreciate Harriette’s commitment to the sport for the past few years and we wish her well.”
He also quoted an email from Brainard: “The only reason I was continuing to coach was for the love of the girls, as well as the sport. I will miss coaching the girls tremendously.”
Higgins’ MUHS field hockey teams have compiled a 42-24-17 record against arguably tougher, more balanced competition than the lacrosse program. The field hockey program has reached the D-I final once under her guidance, made it to the semifinal round three times, and won one playoff game the other season.
The Pittsburgh native and her family first moved to Vermont in 1988 and to Cornwall in 1997. Higgins also assisted the Middlebury College field hockey program for a season before stepping down because of travel conflicts with her work and family — she and husband, Chris, have four children, one in college and three still in Middlebury schools.
Although she played lacrosse one year in high school, Higgins acknowledged her experience in the sport is mostly limited to “watching my four children play lacrosse and enjoying it at the college level.”
But even less than a week into her tenure, Higgins said she has a plan to advance her sport-specific coaching knowledge. It includes immersing herself in videos, attending a high-level instructional session in Massachusetts, and picking the brains of friends who know the sport well.
“I’m very fortunate to know some of the coaches at the college,” she said. “I’m hopeful ... the Xs and Os will fall into place.”
Assistant coach Janet Malcolm has also agreed to stay on, Higgins was happy to say.
“That’s a big piece of it. That will help,” she said. “I will really need her expertise.”
Prospective athletes won’t be getting the kind of extensive fitness package the members of the field hockey team receive, but Higgins said she and Malcolm will come up with some expectations.
“I’m going to meet with Janet, and we’re going to make a plan,” she said.
Higgins also pledged to rectify one issue that upset some parents last year — the program had low numbers, and some felt the needs of JV-level players were not met.
“There’s no way we will not have a JV team this year,” she said.
Higgins said she would keep an open mind about how long she would stay on the job. For instance, if either former long-time coach Marcie Wisnowski or Malcolm stepped forward and said she would like to take over, Higgins would step aside. If not, Higgins would consider a long-term arrangement.
“I’m not looking beyond this year,” she said. “I would leave that open, for sure.”
Higgins also put to rest some speculation about her future with the field hockey team. Her younger daughter, Sara, a three-year varsity field hockey player, will graduate this year, and both of her youngest children are male athletes. But Higgins said she plans to stay on, even with another daughter, Kate, already playing field hockey in college.
“I have committed to field hockey. That job is a joy,” Higgins said. “It is that way because of the young women that play.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.