New field hockey head coach ignites culture change

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New field hockey head coach ignites culture change

Heratch Ekmekjian

Heratch Ekmekjian

Heratch Ekmekjian

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By John Hagerty, deputy sports editor

Coming off the heels of an 8-12 season and a semifinal loss in the CAA tournament, newly appointed head coach Shelly Morris is looking to change the culture of Northeastern University field hockey.

Morris was hired to replace longtime head coach Cheryl Murtagh Feb. 1. In their spring practices, Morris and the players have worked to solidify a sense of unity and purpose among the team.

“Right now what we’re trying to work on is just creating a different culture on our team,” fourth-year forward Kelly Stigas said. “Making sure that every single person wants to be there. Building on that accountability now so that going into the fall we’re ready to get going.”

Morris played field hockey at Northeastern and graduated as a recreation and sports management major in 1994. She went on to coach at Stonehill College and Ohio University and amassed a cumulative 167 wins over 13 years and an NCAA berth at each institution. Morris joined the Northeastern coaching staff in 2015 as associate head coach.

Despite her success elsewhere, Morris always had her sights set on being the head coach at Northeastern.

“Once I got into college coaching it was a dream of mine to come back here knowing Cheryl [Murtagh] had been here a long time and built a great tradition and foundation for this program,” Morris said. “This was something I always wanted to do, come back and coach at my alma mater. It was a dream come true.”

The Huskies will return with two of their three top scorers from 2017, second-year forward Camille O’Conor and fourth-year forward June Curry-Lindahl.

“I think because we have such a veteran group coming back, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue on the success we had this past fall, making the conference tournament,” Morris said.

In spring practices, players have gravitated toward Morris’ calm presence as a coach.

“She sits back and lets us play,” Stigas said. “We noticed that the first month of playing. Off the field she’s very relatable. She wants to build relationships with the girls on the team. She’s not going to be in your face yelling, she’s going to sit back, let us do our thing.”

While the team is building skills and honing their strategy, Morris has prioritized her vision of changing the team’s mindset.

“It is about playing for the bigger picture [rather] than yourself,” Morris said. “That’s what we’re trying to bring in here with our team culture. Being good teammates, fostering good leaders, building them as people.”

Since Morris was hired shortly after the arrival of athletic director Jeff Konya, she is excited to collaborate with Konya to grow the program.

“He brings a different style, just like I bring a different style than Cheryl,” Morris said. “It’s always great to have something new and energetic and I love his vision. With us being in Dedham, we don’t generate a lot of fans. The help of the marketing and promoting of our programs in the Boston community, his vision with that is really exciting.”

Players have adjusted quickly to the regime change and begun immersing themselves in their preparation for next season.

“I think having Shelly [Morris] already here the last three years, I don’t think we’re going to be transitioning — we’re going to go right in,” Stigas said. “It’s nice that a lot of us know her, she knows us, so I think we’ll be able to jump right into the season.”