MALVERN—His time at Villa Maria was fairly brief, covering just four years of the storied history of Villa Maria field hockey. But Coach Daan Polders leaves behind a legacy that will be hard to equal, let alone surpass. Polders is leaving the area, returning to North Carolina, where his wife just took a new job.
Polders did more than merely uphold the tradition of success that is Villa Maria field hockey—he put his own stamp on the program and took it to new heights. Villa made state finals appearances in three of four incredible seasons under Polders, while reaching the state semi-finals in the other. Over that span, the Hurricanes captured four AACA championships, three District 1 Class AA crowns, and two PIAA Class, AA state titles.
When Polders arrived, the Hurricanes were coming off a rare down season where a nearly decade long reign as District champions came to an end. Polders, on the other hand, had just coached his Colorado high school team, Colorado Academy, to three straight state titles. He also boasted collegiate coaching experience at the Division I level at Wake Forest.
Growing up in the Netherlands, Polders got his start in the sport as a player at around 12 years of age. Working his way through the club system, Polders eventually played in the Dutch National League, and eventually played internationally on Dutch national teams.
“The experiences, friendships and network you create through field hockey are everlasting,” said Polders. “Plus playing against the high level (international) players and teams are great memories.”
Upon his arrival at Villa, Polders, with all his experience in field hockey, faced something with which he was completely unfamiliar. The Hurricanes still played their home games on a surface cows could eat. Polders, on the other hand, had never played nor even coached a single game on grass, only artificial turf.
“The hardest part for me was to figure out how to play on grass on my first day,” said Polders. “I never coached a game in my life on grass. So I was just thinking how to make this work for the team and the players so we could be successful. We started a new chapter and we worked on new concepts based on my philosophy which meant a lot of teaching in the beginning and more coaching later. The players had to learn and had to understand why we did certain things instead of just doing it.”
Polders soon developed an appreciation for just how good high school field hockey is in the state of Pennsylvania. There’s a reason why USA Field Hockey relocated to the state, and is now has its headquarters at Spooky Nook in Lancaster Co.
“Field Hockey is definitely at a high level in PA not only because of the skill level but also because of the ambition and the commitment of players to become better,” said Polders. “Playing almost all year round helps the growing process as long as we keep an eye on the quality and not only look at the quantity. More is not always better and we have to be mindful of that.”
Before long, the wins were coming, and a lot of them. The Hurricanes went 86-6-2 under Polders, and won the first state championship for Villa in 20 years that very first year, 2014. But it was never solely about wins and losses and championships for Polders, though obviously winning is why a competitor competes. As fun as winning is, it is equally important that the process itself be fun, too.
“Over the course of the years, the older players helped me teaching the younger ones which accelerated the process and made it easier for me to work on the process as a whole,” said Polders. “These past couple seasons have also proven that it worked while we tried to have fun, too.”
From an impromptu magic show by Adele Iacobucci, to Emily Doyle and Hannah Miller doing their best performance of a Grace VanderWaal tune, this year’s edition of Hurricanes field hockey not only showed its fun side, they will go down as one of the very best teams ever to wear a Villa field hockey uniform.
After shrugging off a loss to eventual Class AAA state runner-up Downingtown West in the first game of the season, Villa reeled off 24 straight victories, including a 2-1 victory over Wyoming Valley West for the state championship. The Hurricanes made the post season slate look ridiculously easy, outscoring the opposition by an absurd 59-3 margin.
“The current group has been with me for almost four years, so it might make sense that we worked well together,” said Polders. “This group has been particularly good as a team, worked well together, learned how to solve on-field ‘problems’ on the field–without me–and is a nice group of people who loved the game.”
While there is no question that Polders and his trusty whiteboard will be seen roaming the sidelines again sometime in the near future, the next stop in his field hockey voyage remains unclear.
“Not sure what my next step in life is but we will work it out,” said Polders. “I embrace the next challenge and go from there.”
Whatever comes next, his time at Villa will always hold a special place in his heart.
“It has been a great journey, hopefully for all of us involved,” said Polders. I’ve met a lot of great people, made friends, and will miss the players dearly. It all made me a better coach: I am learning every day. The whiteboard will move on and maybe win more championships.”
On the last note, there is no “maybe” about it. Polders and championships go hand in hand.
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