New Tiger field hockey coach has ‘passion’ and an MUHS history
MIDDLEBURY — The new Middlebury Union High School field hockey coach played a role during one pivotal period in the program’s storied history, and she is taking charge at what could be another key point in time.
Chelsey Giuliani, a former MUHS field hockey standout and 2001 graduate, played for Tiger coaching legend Gail Jette during the final few years of Jette’s nearly four-decade career.
Giuliani, then Chelsey Munson, took the field for the final of Jette’s nine title teams, a 1998 co-champion with Spaulding — that was before the Vermont Principals’ Association instituted tie-breakers for all championship games.
And Giuliani remembers well what was both her and Jette’s last MUHS game, a 3-2 Division I quarterfinal loss in 2000 to Brattleboro that spanned two days. The visiting Colonels played to a 2-2 tie in regulation, and six 11-on-11 overtimes failed to settle matters before darkness fell on Jette Field.
The Colonels hopped back on a bus for the three-hour ride to Middlebury the next day. And they scored in the second minute of the seventh overtime to end the game and Jette and Giuliani’s MUHS careers — and help spark Vermont’s movement toward the current rules of two seven-on-seven overtimes, followed by the teams’ players taking turns going one-on-one with goalies if necessary.
Giuliani said she does not remember every time she took the field, both for MUHS and then for four years for Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, but that quarterfinal is an exception.
“That game, and the fallout, is forever embedded,” she said.
It’s understandable if Giuliani cannot remember every game. She began playing in fifth grade, and after graduating from Franklin Pierce soon began coaching in her new home, Barre. For one year, in 2006, she coached the Spaulding High School JV team, and from 2007 to 2013 she led Spaulding’s varsity field hockey program.
Her family, now including three young children, moved back to Middlebury in 2013, in part to be closer to family. She coached the Tiger JV field hockey team through this past fall, taking over the varsity program when Megan Sears decided to step down after this past season.
Giuliani, who will be assisted by former program head and current Tiger girls’ lacrosse coach Kelley Higgins, said the year without field hockey was not fun.
“I homeschool my children. I’m primarily a coach,” she said. “For that one season field hockey wasn’t part of my life I really felt its absence. I’m passionate about this game, and I absolutely love coaching.”
MUHS Director of Activities Sean Farrell said he was thrilled to have someone with Giuliani’s extensive coaching and playing background ready to step in.
“When she first arrived we were excited to have her at the JV level because of her background and her skills as far as developing athletes through fundamentals. So when the varsity position opened up she was certainly a natural choice,” Farrell said.
Beyond Giuliani’s experience, Farrell cited her love for the sport and for coaching.
“The kids who were coached by her directly last year were very enthusiastic, and I think that came from her enthusiasm. A coach helps generates those vibes,” he said. “We’re hoping that same energy and focus comes to the varsity program, and I know that’s very much her focus, how to really bring that team together and have a really positive year.”
Giuliani explained why she fell in love with field hockey, and maybe why many who play the sport as well as other sports say it is their favorite.
“To become a solid field hockey player takes a tremendous amount of work and dedication, because it is a complex game, and improving your skill takes a lot of grit. And when you put that much work into something, you care about it,” she said. “And I think it’s an exciting game once you understand some of the nuts and bolts.”
It did not take her long to fall in love with coaching, either.
“The number one thing is the connection I make with my athletes,” Giuliani said. “I have equal amounts of love and respect for all my players, and my motivation is to give them the best experience possible, both as individuals and as a team.”
As well as the light-bulb moments when athletes learn or master something, she also enjoys coaching’s tactical challenges.
“I think the Xs and Os are an exciting part of coaching, too. I love the re-evaluation, actually: Let’s look at the play, at what happened, and how we can improve,” Giuliani said. “And involving the athletes in that process is also really exciting, allowing them to have ownership of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Her expectations for the Tigers this fall are not tied to wins and losses, but rather she wants them to set personal and team goals and do what it takes to meet them.
“I’m committed to the follow-through,” Giuliani said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to do, rather than say, and for them to see what we’ve been talking out, for us to actually put it into action.”
As Giuliani takes charge, she does face some challenges. In the past four years in Division I, the Tigers have won three playoff games and have been seeded fourth once, eighth twice and ninth once. Program numbers have been down, and the statewide field hockey alignment committee this past winter recommended the Tigers move to D-II for the first time.
Giuliani said she consulted at length with Farrell and other coaches before deciding a move to D-II could help program recruiting, which she called “a huge point of emphasis” for her.
“That’s one of the reasons we decided to switch to D-II. Let’s re-evaluate the program and see where we can maybe get some numbers and keep some numbers,” she said. “We did not come by that decision lightly.”
The Tigers will remain in the Metro Conference, but will compete in the D-II postseason.
Giuliani will also look to model local youth clinics and camps after the USA Field Hockey system, which she said does “a wonderful job of just breaking down age-appropriate skill introduction” and could make those programs more fun for those being introduced to the sport.
“If our commitment is really the youth program and building numbers there, then that really makes sense,” she said. “If we do eventually see those numbers filter into the high school, I think that’s really important.”
Giuliani also wants to make sure girls considering joining the program continue to see a team that is enjoying itself.
“Definitely a huge point of emphasis this season at the varsity level is team chemistry and building strong relationships, emphasizing having a positive experience and hoping that ultimately translates to young girls wanting to be part of this program,” she said.
Giuliani also believes the game will speak for itself if given a chance, especially thanks to rules changes that allow players to carry the ball quickly after fouls and permits officials to hold whistles after defensive fouls if the attacking team has an advantage.
“The rule changes that have happened in the last five years or so, (such as) playing advantage, have been huge both from a player and a spectator standpoint,” she said. “Come watch now, because it’s changed. I think the changes make it a much more streamlined game.”
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