Coach Hand was kind enough to take some time out of her day to answer some questions for us. Entering her eighth year at Winnacunnet, Hand will be looking for her eighth consecutive final four appearance, a seventh finals appearance, and she will try to claim her fifth state title.
A heartbreaking loss to Timberlane last season, you scored first and had multiple opportunities to kill off the game, with a streak of back to back corners in the first half. Is that something that haunted you during the offseason, and is it something you've tried to work on going into this season?
"Our conditioning hurt us in that final game. Timberlane was beating us to the ball; we were tired and out of gas. Conditioning has always been huge for me in the past so that haunted me through out the off season and I watched that game over and over, little things, easy things we should have done but in the end, Timberlane wanted it more than us, and it showed. They didn't give up. Conditioning is key and a big thing I believe in, so you know what that means this year!"
You only lost two starters to graduation, but they were significant losses. Abby Merrill who led D1 in scoring, and key midfielder Rachel Ingham, are you confident you have the players that can replace that scoring power and midfield presence? Or will that be a big issue for you this season?
"Numbers are huge this year for us, and a great group of freshmen coming into the program. We did lose some key players, but I'm confident, but veteran players and new comers will have to step up and take charge, they know what to expect and what I am looking for."
You do return key players Isobel Sargent, Courtney Ingham, Lauren Alkire and Alyssa Crochetiere. How important are each of those players, and will they have to step up to be bigger team leaders than they were last year?
"I am hoping my seniors step up and also my veteran players and lead the team to become a true team. The team is everything in becoming successful, everyone needs to be on the same page including the coaches. These girls have been there, they have seen what it takes, they have experienced wins and losses, they have experienced the tears which I am hoping shape them into great role models for what they want this upcoming season."
You also have one of the best freshmen classes coming into the state this season. Carolyn Thompson, Grace Michael, and Samantha Crochetiere headline the class, is there any chance we see them play varsity or even start?
"Solid freshmen are coming in, it is a huge difference to go from middle school to varsity, so it will be interesting to see how they adapt. I can't say yet if they will see varsity but I know along the way they will be moving up."
Other than yourself, who do you say are the top three teams in your division?
"Top 3 teams... Pinkerton always, they look fast this year from what I have seen in summer league. Timberlane, the defending champs, they always have a great team, Mim is a great coach. I also believe BG may be decent this year they have improved so much over the years, hard to say the top teams though you never know what happens during a season."
On to some personal coaching questions. If you win it all this year you'll have won five state titles in 8 years, which also means you'll have been to seven finals in eight years, what would that mean to you?
"Honestly I don't ever look at stats of my own. The biggest thing is getting these girls to be successful and having fun. It means more to me to see the excitement out of the girls than anything while being competitive. I always stress to the girls getting to states is hard, not an easy thing to do, never take it for granted, I know I would have loved to have won a state title as an athlete back in high school."
You hit the 100 win mark last season. You are one of the youngest and quickest to ever hit the milestone, did that win mean anything to you or was it just another game to you?
"I had no idea I was even close to the 100 mark, once I found out it did mean a lot and I was excited. Coaching and field hockey has always been a passion of mine it's what I look forward to all the time, hoping to continue on with this for many more seasons."
Since you've started at Winnacunnet, you've been to seven consecutive final fours, six out of seven finals, and winning four of them. Is that something you thought was possible when you started?
"Being an athlete and growing up playing sports especially at the varsity level, winning is the ultimate goal and being competitive, I strive to be the best and work hard to achieve it and get the team to have that competitive drive and mindset, becoming a true team is important to me and once you achieve that, success will take its course."
With those numbers, you've, without question, have built the best program in the state over the past seven years. What do you think that says about what you bring to the table as a coach?
" I couldn't be 1/2 the coach I am today if it wasn't for these girls I've coached along the way. Hasn't always been easy, they have tested me, questioned me, and made me learn so much over the years. They also believe in me which I believe in them and it makes it successful all around. They bought into my philosophy and made us all on the same page."
You had Sky and Finn Caron in your middle school program and lost them to private school. Finn is an incredible offensive weapon, and Sky is arguably one of, if not the best player that's ever come out of New Hampshire. What did you feel when they decided to leave, and if they stayed how big of a difference do you think that would've made for your program?
"I won't lie, I was bummed when their mother told me they were going to a private school, but then again I want the best for these girls, and that's what they wanted, then I support their decision. They definitely would have made an impact on our team they are great players and overall great girls, very coachable. "
Last one, entering your 8th year at Winnacunnet, as mentioned before, you've been to seven consecutive Final Fours, six finals, winning four of them. You are one the youngest and quickest coaches ever to hit the 100 win mark. In 2015 you were awarded MAX Field Hockey's New England Region Coach of the Year award, but in your seven years at Winnacunnet, you've never been awarded the New Hampshire Field Hockey Coaches' Association Coach of the Year award, which is voted on by your fellow coaches. Why do you think that is? Does it give you any extra motivation to try and become a better coach year after year?
"Gives me motivation to work harder each year but honestly I'll take having a state championship under my record than a coach of the year any day. Especially seeing the excitement and hard work the players put in to reach their goals."