STORRS, Conn. - Had Nancy Stevens been born 10 years earlier, she would not have had the chance to win the 1975 national championship with the West Chester University field hockey team - or even the opportunity to compete in a national championship game.
As a result, Stevens would not have been inducted into the U.S.A. Field Hockey Hall of Fame this past November as a member of that team, that won the first-ever women's field hockey championship contest. Timing was everything in Stevens' playing career.
Now the head coach at UConn and all-time wins leader in the sport (639), Stevens had the chance to reconnect with her former coach and teammates during Final Four weekend in Norfolk, Va. to celebrate their induction.
"That's the best part, to reconnect with former teammates. It's interesting that people reassume their roles - the jokester was still the jokester," said Stevens. "The energy and chemistry is the same, but the best part was for us to spend time with our coach - Vonnie Gros."
Gros served as the U.S. field hockey coach in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, leading the team to a bronze medal - its best finish in program history.
"(Gros) is a very special person in field hockey history in this country, so any chance we get to see her and spend time with her is really special for us," said Stevens.
Stevens was one of three team captains in her senior season in 1975, leading West Chester to the first of four-straight national titles. The standards were high, and with that came added responsibility for Stevens.
"We expected to win every game and there is a responsibility that goes with that. I try to carry those same standards that my coach instilled in us with this UConn program," said Stevens. Her college team went 15-0-3 that season.
It was 42 years ago that West Chester played Ursinus in the AIAW championship game, which went to overtime and required a clutch play by Stevens to seal the victory.
"The game went to penalty strokes and I took the first penalty stroke for my team. I was able to convert it, so that's a memory I have always had," said Stevens.
This all came at a time when West Chester University was at the forefront of women's collegiate athletics. Both swimming and women's basketball had won national championships between the late 1960s and mid-1970s.
Stevens was a multi-sport athlete, playing four years of field hockey and four years of lacrosse. The West Chester lacrosse team lost just one game during Stevens' four seasons of participation.
In addition, Stevens played three years of intercollegiate badminton and ranked ninth nationally in doubles; she also ran indoor track during her senior year.
"I really think it was a convergence of factors (that led to my opportunities in athletics). West Chester at the time was a leader in women's athletics," said Stevens. "The convergence occurred in 1972 when Title IX passed and schools were encouraged to fund and support women's athletics."
Stevens added, "It was that era when women's teams began to play for national championships and I was fortunate to play in that era. The timing was critically important."
Since taking the helm at UConn, Stevens has used her playing experience to influence her coaching career - which has led the Huskies to 32 Big East titles, 12 NCAA semifinals appearances and two national championships (2013, 2014).
"To feel you were a pioneer for the sport and at your school, after winning the first national championship, and to know your program won the next three, there was a standard of excellence," said Stevens. "That was instilled in me, and so coming here to Connecticut, we are trying to win national championships every year."
Coaching in five different decades, Stevens has seen the sport evolve and change over the years - everything from equipment to tactical play. Had it not been for that 1975 West Chester team though, and some good timing, things may have been different.
"To be inducted into your sports' hall of fame is special and to be inducted with your teammates makes it more special," said Stevens. "To me, if you're getting inducted, that's the way to do it; with your teammates and coach."
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