Bethlehem, Pa. — The Lehigh field hockey program is in the midst of a turnaround. Two full years into head coach Caitlin Dallmeyer's tenure, the Mountain Hawks are making small strides in tangible results. Most importantly, they are making large strides in the often intangible process, processes which build a foundation for long-lasting success.
"The team has changed in many ways since Coach Caitlin arrived," said recent graduate Julia Washburn '18, who saw the coaching change occur midway through her collegiate career. "As a program with a historically poor record, there were times when we seemed to have accepted that fate. The coaching staff has given us the feeling of legitimacy, which definitely drives a higher level of intensity and better work ethic. These pieces are so important for a team's long-term success, as they make up our culture. A solid culture gives us more space to work on hockey, and makes our time on the field more impactful."
That time on the field has led to a number of tangible steps forward. For example:
—Lehigh allowed 14.1 shots per game in 2017, fewest since 2007.
—Lehigh won all four Patriot League weekly awards (Offensive, Defensive, Goalkeeper, Rookie) at least once for the first time in school history.
—Lehigh posted three or more shutouts in consecutive seasons (2016 and 2017) for the first time since 1999 and 2000.
Those stats are nice and they're indicative of a program that is improving, but the Mountain Hawks want much more. Dallmeyer, and the entire Lehigh Athletics administration, understands a transformation doesn't happen overnight and it takes a lot of hard work, patience and the right people.
"When we hired Caitlin, we shared that most transitions take four or five years to reach full maturity, and most have some stress as coaches and team members get to know each other," said associate athletic director Stacy Shiffert, who headed the search process that led to Dallmeyer's arrival at Lehigh. "We are highly confident in Caitlin, committed to the timetable we have observed and excited by the progress the program has realized in her first two years. We look forward to continuing our work in building a highly-respected field hockey program."
Instilling Her Values
Dallmeyer is most focused on creating that foundation for long-term success, on and off the field. To do so, she relies on the program's five values — hard work, accountability, team-first mentality, never settle and leadership.
"I am a firm believer that there is a certain level of fitness needed to play at the Division I level," said Dallmeyer. "In order to make sure our bodies are prepared for the workload, we must be diligent in caring for ourselves and maintaining a high level of fitness. Our body is our mechanism for participating in any sport and unless consistently tended to, it can fail us. We start every season with fitness testing so we can evaluate our physical capabilities and determine if our bodies are ready for field training. Preparation is key to success and in our program, you can't earn your team gear unless you prove you are prepared to put the work in required to compete."
Being prepared to compete takes plenty of hard work and accountability, especially since the preseason comes at the end of the summer months, when the student-athletes are on their own.
"Passing any fitness test does not happen without being accountable for your training," said Dallmeyer. "In the summer our athletes are busy with internships that run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and they must be diligent in finding time and energy to train outside those hours. You have to be relentless in your pursuit of success to bring the work rate necessary to see gains in your fitness after a long day in the office. We have high standards, it takes a lot of hard work to meet those standards and if we want to reap the benefits of success, we can never settle until they are reached."
Another important value is having a team-first mentality, which is something that can often be overlooked and underappreciated in today's society. To combat the tendency to underappreciate the little things, Dallmeyer has made a concerted effort to reinforce positive behaviors.
"As a staff, we believe in highlighting all of our athletes' successes," she said. "We award pride bands to our players when they go above and beyond in any way. That could be gains in the weight room, classroom or showing great leadership in an otherwise unrecognized way. When we do great things on game day, the media covers it, but we represent Lehigh field hockey for 365 days a year. Who is celebrating our successes for the 344 days without competitions? We are, every day. That is our job as coaches to make sure no great accomplishment goes unnoticed."
Having the little things recognized has made a difference.
"It feels really good to be recognized for outstanding work, and it makes everyone else want to raise their performance, too," said Washburn. "The best part about the pride bands is that they aren't only given out for field hockey skills. The coaches recognize integrity, hard work in the weight room and demonstrating exceptional leadership, among other areas. It emphasizes how everyone can be a contributor to the team, even if it's not in minutes played."
The Patriot League's motto is "Today's Scholar-Athletes, Tomorrow's Leaders." Lehigh field hockey is preparing tomorrow's leaders. In fact, leadership was one of the primary reasons Dallmeyer came to Lehigh.
"I would not have come to Lehigh if they did not value leadership within the department," she said. "We already have so many great programs in place within the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy, and I feel like it's my job as a coach to make sure that I'm identifying potential leadership in the recruiting process and fostering it every day on the field."
One way Dallmeyer fosters that leadership is creating opportunities to lead for a variety of team members.
"We create drills in which we only allow some of our less vocal players to speak so we can help them develop confidence in communicating with their more vocal peers," said Dallmeyer. "This displays the need to have everyone involved. It is difficult to grow as a player or person if you are never challenged to do so."
"It can be so easy as an underclassman to fade into the background of practice, lifts and team bonding," said Washburn. "The coaches don't allow that. As someone who wishes I had more confidence as a freshman, it's awesome that the coaches encourage underclassmen to make an impact from the day they step on campus. This makes for a unified team, happier people and more productive players."
The end result is leading each other in game situations, and the game of life.
"When our coaching staff sees great leadership displayed, we call it out," said Dallmeyer. "When we don't see it, we demand it. We want to make sure that we are developing young women to be able to lead when they graduate Lehigh.
"Thirty percent of our alumnae base is in a leadership role within their companies in one way or another. We don't just want players striving to be in that 30 percent; we want players who are willing to help foster it in others so the number grows to 40 percent."
So far, the transformation has featured a fair share of challenges, but also plenty of highlights.
"The gratifying piece is redefining the culture, having the team define what they want to be known for and what they want this program to look like to other people — then watching them take the lead to make sure behaviors and actions are lining up," said Dallmeyer. "That's a really big task when you think about teams and transitioning culture."
The Mountain Hawks have focused on defining a culture that incorporates all aspects of the student-athlete experience.
"Lehigh Athletics is set up really well with the support they provide in all areas, from leadership development, to academics, to our strength and conditioning staff," said Dallmeyer. "Our staff is not just our three coaches; it extends far beyond. Our athletes have relationships with a variety of people within the department. It's my job to make sure our resources are put in front of them on a regular basis."
Those resources are seeing impressive gains in areas beyond the game field.
"This team has completely changed its culture and the pride they have in this program," said assistant strength and conditioning coach Dominic Carlineo. "There has been major progress in the tangible numbers, but the true growth I have witnessed has been in everything that happens behind the scenes. Their toughness, mindset, dedication, organization, discipline and off-field commitment is growing continuously."
"I have heard a strong desire by the women on the team to improve and grow, and they are beginning to confront the realities of what their desired level of improvement requires in terms of practical commitments," said director of athletics leadership development Julie Ammary. "Coaches are holding people accountable to those commitments, demonstrating the kind of integrity we aim to teach our leaders. The conversations I have been part of reflect growth and maturity by individuals who have taken a hard look in the mirror, asking themselves what matters most to them and acknowledging the level of effort and investment necessary to realize those values and goals."
Some goals are already being realized on the field, most notably, defeating Lafayette last season for the first time since 2005. As the team stormed the field following the overtime game-winner, the moment was a reminder that working together for a collective goal is fun.
"Playing a collegiate sport is one of the most challenging, yet rewarding collegiate experiences one can have," said Dallmeyer. "I believe the feeling of accomplishment that we consistently seek throughout this journey is the greatest reward. Celebrations after big wins, succeeding in a new role at practice, and executing a skill in game play that you have put hours of practice into achieving are perhaps some of the best moments we take away from our four-year experience.
"However, without the relationships we build along the way, those moments are meaningless. Pouring yourself into your team and fully connecting with those around you is critical to making the best out of every second in the program. From the team-building activities created by the staff to the late-night study groups with your teammates, every moment is one that should be cherished because you are experiencing them with your best friends."
The program is taking steps forward not only on the field, but also in the classroom.
"It seems like the student-athletes are more motivated and engaged across the board academically," said director of student-athlete academic services Katie Guynn. "I love walking through team study hall in the student-athlete lounge because they're all focused and working hard, which has contributed to their collective success academically."
Dallmeyer and her staff have emphasized the importance of academics and it has already paid off. In the four semesters since Dallmeyer was named head coach, the team's average GPA is 3.34, up 0.11 from the previous four semesters.
"Caitlin is so supportive of the work my area does," said Guynn. "She was eager to learn about academic life and academic support when she got here and continues to prioritize academic excellence. I've noticed that the team practices in the mornings a few days a week, which opens the afternoon for those study halls."
"We're constantly reminding ourselves there's a much bigger picture than just focusing on wins and losses," said Dallmeyer. "We need to push our student-athletes to see their potential on the field, but also as young leaders in their field of choosing, helping them find their voice and find their confidence. I want to make sure that when they graduate, they know who they are, they know what they're capable of and they're bringing those values into everything they do."
Along with getting the most out of the present-day program to set the foundation for the future, it is important to find the right people for the program's future.
"Our challenge is to make sure we're bringing in people who will commit to the continual change of Lehigh field hockey," said Dallmeyer. "We have to make sure we're identifying talent, which is the easiest part, then bringing in student-athletes with the levels of integrity and character that we need to uphold the movement and standards of the program. The person we're looking for has to be resilient – have experienced setbacks in the past and overcome them.
"We can't guarantee instant success. This program has seen its challenges and has been working to climb itself into the spotlight."
It's a slow climb, but the Mountain Hawks are well on their way under the leadership of Dallmeyer.
"Caitlin has made a groundbreaking impact on this program," said Carlineo. "I could go on and on, but simply put, she has put in endless effort and positively affected her athletes' lives while completely changing the reputation of the field hockey program around our school and the league."
It is essential to continue developing the student-athletes who are dedicated to the program's vision, while recruiting the next generation of Mountain Hawks who can continue taking Lehigh field hockey a step further.
"Continuing to highlight the athletes in the program that are dedicated to our vision is an important priority," said Dallmeyer. "Fostering that drive and making sure that fire doesn't blow out is a critical piece to us moving forward."
Everyone is in it together.
"There's not enough room on this page to embrace my excitement," said Carlineo. "There is still a lot of work to be done, but her program knows what it is up against and welcomes it with open arms and a full head of steam."