By Jess Thomas
The Nashoba Regional High School field hockey team made it to the state championship game this past fall, finishing a memorable and inspiring season with a 20-2-1 record. Stow’s Jen Brown, founder of the youth Strikers Field Hockey program, has been a crucial part of the development of these field hockey stars.
It all began nine years ago when Brown started a field hockey camp with five girls after a friend mentioned to Brown that her daughter was looking to play the sport.
Brown had coached middle and high school field hockey for a number of years earlier in her life, but had taken time off to raise her children.
With the help of the Stow Recreation Department, the program grew to 12 players and they named themselves the “Strikers.” It stuck, and is still the name they use today.
“We entered some indoor leagues through the winter and, in the fall, we had established our first-ever middle school team for the Nashoba girls,” Brown said.
The team grew to 21 girls from Stow, Bolton and Lancaster, and the program was off to a successful start.
Today, the program has seen a tremendous spike in growth and now has two middle school teams and a youth program for kindergarten through fifth grades.
“We had siblings that wanted to play, so our ‘little stick sisters’ was born,” Brown said. “This program started with about eight girls and has grown from 30 to 50 girls per season.”
Since 2009, Brown has been pairing middle school and youth players in a mentoring program called “Stick Sisters.” They meet at a field and play games and bond together and keep in touch through email and phone.
They even tailgate to high school games to support the older players. Nashoba’s head field hockey coach, Jaime Mariani, is now allowing the middle-schoolers to scrimmage at halftime.
“It’s really an amazing feeling seeing all the girls in one place,” Brown said. “This program is very special to the girls. This mentoring program is something I’m very proud to have formed, it’s unique and the only one around,” Brown said.
Brown added, “Our goal is to provide each girl with a solid foundation of fundamental skills and understanding of the game before they reach the high school level.”
And, most importantly, she said, is for them to fall in love with the game and have fun.
Bolton’s Megan Irvin, 12, has been a part of Strikers for the last four years, and is a very big fan of the Stick Sister program.
“I love being a Striker. All of the coaches are awesome and being a part of the Stick Sister program and World Cup day at summer camp is such a blast,” Megan said.
Parent Stephanie Irvin added, “Megan is not only learning to play and love field hockey, but she’s learning valuable life skills,” Irvin said. “I’ve always been impressed by the way Coach Jen (Brown) runs her program. She teaches her girls that sportsmanship and supporting one another is just as important as learning to the play the game.”
There seems to be no short supply of Coach Brown fans.
Kayla Ballas, a 12-year-old from Stow who has been a part of Strikers for a year-and-a-half, considers the team her family.
Ballas said, “Jen Brown is the best coach I have ever had. She teaches us about taking on leadership and good sportsmanship that applies on and off the field. There is honestly no other team in the world that I would rather play on besides the Strikers.”
One of the most important aspects of the middle school Strikers teams is the camaraderie and bonds that the players obtain before continuing as teammates at Nashoba.
“Most of the high school girls have come through our feeder system,” Brown said. “The best part is the girls are getting to know one another and play together before they reach the high school. Some great friendships are made and the team bonding has started before they reach ninth grade.”
One of those girls, Tess Anderson of Stow, is currently on Nashoba’s historic field hockey squad, and she couldn’t be more thankful for her time as a Striker. She played in seventh and eighth grade and helps coach the team now.
“Strikers Field Hockey has been nothing but a positive experience for me, it was the foundation for what has become a major part of my life,” Anderson said. “The girls that I played side by side with while in the program have become some of my best friends.
“Jen creates a safe and loving environment for everyone in her program, the type that I didn’t want to leave.” Anderson stated. “Having her as a role model is something no other program could have given me,” Anderson said.
Brown couldn’t be happier with how the program has grown and how many girls have continued their field hockey careers.
“I look back at some past and current players having so many opportunities,” Brown said. “Several of the girls are playing in college now or are heading off to play in the fall/future. It’s amazing seeing the girls playing at the D1, D2 and D3 levels.
“Five of our Strikers were selected to the USA Field Hockey National Futures Tournament and three were selected to the Junior Olympic teams,” Brown said.
Does Brown see any end in sight for this program?
“I look forward to many more years of building this sport for our girls. I love these kids so much,” Brown said. “It is so heartwarming watching them play and grow into successful young women.”
Brown wants everyone to know that the program is open to anyone who wants to play and if anyone is interested in summer camp at Lake Boon in Stow, visit Strikers Field Hockey’s website for more info at www.strikersfieldhockey.com