Nicole Kroener knew she had a lot of work to do after her freshman season.
Now as a sophomore, she has stepped into a major role.
Along with working out with the team in the spring, the Morgantown, Pa., native spent most of her summer living in Philadelphia to play for the New Jersey High Performance team, working with coach Amanda Janney.
Kroener, a midfielder, said she attributed her work ethic this summer to her expectation of having an increased role for the field hockey team this year.
“I knew I was most likely going to have to step up into the center mid,” Kroener said. “I got to play with a lot of the girls who were on the national team, and that was a great experience.”
The work that Kroener did during the offseason is what Janney said has made the biggest impact on her sophomore year.
“It’s pretty obvious, [Kroener is] kind of like [sophomore Amber Youtz], you know those two girls take it to heart how important it is to get in shape and they worked hard in the summer,” Janney said. “[Kroener’s] fitness is not in question for us. She is a fast, fit player and just really strong. She’s one of our strongest kids in the weight room.”
Kroener has emerged this season as one of most important players for the field hockey team.
Janney said that last year, she knew that Kroener’s role would transform.
“[Kroener] is kind of our quarterback on the field,” Janney said. “[Kroener] runs the middle. She’s all over the field. She’s great on attack and she’s great on defense.”
Kroener has scored six goals and has seven assists this season.
However, Kroener’s success this year wasn’t there in her freshman year. Although she started in all 22 games, Kroener never had a set position and took three shots all year.
Kroener said last season was more of a learning process than anything else.
“I learned a lot. The speed of the game was much faster,” Kroener said. “And I had a lot of strong seniors who really helped me, like Kaylee Keener. She was great to work with in the midfield. [Keener] really directed me.”
Last season for Temple, Bridget Settles led the team in offense and took the team’s penalty strokes.
This season, Kroener has been taking the Owls’ penalty strokes.
Janney’s decision to put Kroener in the role of shooting the strokes came as a surprise to some, including junior defender Mandi Shearer.
“I didn’t even know [Kroener] had a penalty stroke until the very first time [Janney] told her to go in,” Shearer said. “I was a little surprised because I thought [Janney] would choose somebody else, but after that, [Kroener]’s been chosen and she’s the person I would pick too.”
With being chosen to take a free stroke, a certain amount of pressure has been put on the underclassman.
But Kroener said she has been used to that kind of pressure since her days at Twin Valley High School.
“There’s a good amount of pressure, but I try not to think about it,” Kroener said. “I took a lot of the strokes for my team in high school, so I try to go back to those days when it was kind of easier.”
Janney said Kroener doesn’t seem to show any signs of being under pressure in stroke situations.
“[Kroener] is a pretty even-keeled player and I know that she can handle pressure,” Janney said. “A lot of those strokes [are] about dealing with the pressure and not thinking too much.”
For Shearer, Kroener’s consistency is what makes her such a strong teammate.
“[Kroener] is one of the most dependable people that I can count on, she’s very accountable and very dependable on the field,” Shearer said. “That’s the kind of person you need in the center.”
As her sophomore season has progressed, Kroener has grown more into the offense with her first collegiate goal coming in a game against Rutgers on Sept. 2. Kroener scored the second goal to win the game for the Owls in overtime.
But to Shearer, Kroener is more than just an offensive threat or a defensive stopper.
“I would absolutely dedicate the main stability of our team to [Kroener],” Shearer said. “No. 1 because she plays the center and No. 2 because she’s just that solid of a player. I think [Kroener] is the difference in the midfield.”
“[Kroener] is already playing like an upperclassman, with the leadership ability, she leads by example,” Janney said. “The future is bright for Temple field hockey with [Kroener] and [Youtz] being so young.”
Colin Tansits can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @colin_tansits.