Chrissy Horn, left, and Sarah Dwyer are the new assistant coaches of Lehigh’s field hockey team. Both coaches were hired in late August after the previous assistant coaches departed last year. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Sarah Dwyer and Chrissy Horn acclimate to roles as field hockey assistant coaches

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Newly-hired field hockey assistant coaches Sarah Dwyer and Chrissy Horn have settled into their roles within Lehigh’s program despite dealing with less than ideal conditions for anyone beginning a new job.

The women, who were both hired in late August, are filling two team needs after the departure of assistant coach Rachel Konowal and volunteer assistant coach Christopher Chookagian last year. 

While both are nearing the end of their first semesters as assistant coaches at Lehigh, Horn already has an extra year of coaching experience at her alma mater, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Dwyer, on the other hand, graduated from Boston College in May, after serving as the field hockey team’s goaltender for four years in addition to being a team captain in her final season. 

Horn, a native of London, was recruited to play field hockey at Old Dominion, where she graduated in 2018 and worked as a volunteer coach last year. Head coach Caitlin Dallmeyer and her staff began speaking to Horn about the assistant coaching opportunity at Lehigh in February. 

Dallmeyer said Horn was a “pleasant surprise in the applicant pool,” since the majority of prospective candidates tend to come from the local area. She said the fact that Horn was willing to move to Bethlehem indicated a high level of interest in the position, and her decorated career as a star at Old Dominion — on top of international experience playing for the U16 and U18 England National Teams — made the decision a no-brainer.

“We haven’t had anyone on our staff with international playing experience before, so we were thrilled that she was even agreeing to come for an interview — and she blew us away in the process, so it was a really easy hire for us,” Dallmeyer said.

Dallmeyer also said the team was able to get Horn on campus for an in-person meeting just before the university shut down in March. Dallmeyer said despite it being a short visit, the coaching staff was able to establish an immediate connection with her. 

Horn was able to meet some of the players when she visited, too, and was pleased with their attitudes right away.

“I met a few girls back in February, but I didn’t really know the team,” Horn said. “It was a nice surprise how welcoming and respectful the girls were.”

Dwyer’s journey to the Lehigh field hockey program was a little different than Horn’s. Dallmeyer and Dwyer met at a specialized goalkeeping camp two summers ago. Dallmeyer was working as a head coach while Dwyer served as an assistant coach at the camp.

Almost immediately, Dallmeyer says she was blown away by Dwyer’s attitude, enthusiasm and her overall love for the game.

“I loved her,” Dallmeyer said. “I thought she was amazing in her demeanor to the athletes she was working with, she really showed a lot of passion for the game and she had a lot of energy about her and how she interacted with others.”

So blown away, in fact, that Dallmeyer said she reached out to Dwyer herself and asked if she’d be interested in the role.

Before long, Dwyer, who, at that time, was returning home from Boston College in March amid the COVID-19 outbreak, decided the offer was the most ideal and secure for her, so she took it.

“(Coach Dallmeyer) was so kind and genuine and made me feel like I was coming into a family,” Dwyer said. “In such a time of uncertainty, that’s what really appealed to me the most  — just how open and caring they were about the whole process.”

In an ordinary year, the team would have recently finished its regular season and might be entrenched in postseason play. Instead, Dwyer is stationed in New Jersey, and Horn is at her home in Virginia, working remotely. 

When the Patriot League canceled all fall sports in July, the coaching staff decided it would not be worth the living costs to have Dwyer and Horn move to Bethlehem just to work from their homes, Dallmeyer said.

While this has not been ideal, as Dallmeyer pointed out, it worked out that 10 players opted not to return to campus for the fall semester, effectively cutting the team in half between those who returned to school and those who didn’t. The team worked around this and came up with an effective system to maintain structure and routine.

“We created a very specialized training program utilizing Sarah and Chrissy to take care of those who were fully remote,” Dallmeyer said. “This way, (associate head coach) Taylor (Dyer) and I could focus on those athletes who were physically present, in training them and being able to have face-to-face interaction with them, then Sarah and Chrissy would handle the needs of those who were fully remote to keep them engaged and checked in.”

Dallmeyer also said the team’s preparation in the summer was the difference maker in facilitating a smooth transition after Lehigh indefinitely shut down all fall sports on Sept. 29

While the Patriot League recently announced plans for a basketball season beginning in January, it is still unclear whether or not there will be a competitive field hockey season during the 2021 spring semester. The team is preparing with the mindset that there will be one but is well aware that nothing is certain.

Horn said she knows the team will be ready for whatever happens.

“Whatever the spring holds for us — whether or not we’re able to come back and play games — I feel like we’re in a good place to tackle whatever comes up,” Horn said.“It’s exciting.” 

Although the current situation is not what Dwyer or Horn envisioned the season to be when they agreed to join the team earlier this year, they are both happy and grateful for the opportunity and look forward to more normalcy in the future.

Dallmeyer said she’s been impressed by her assistant coaches, and she also shares the desire to return to play.

“They have both been a pleasure to work with, and I’m hoping that eventually we’ll have the opportunity to work with them on the field,” Dallmeyer said.

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