In March 2022, Ball State found their new field hockey coach, and she is making an early impact.
Caitlin Walsh came into the season with the intention of changing the culture. Once she met her new team, she knew Ball State was the place she wanted to be.
“When I came here in the spring, it kind of all lined up. Meeting this team and seeing their work ethic, their grittiness, their drive and desire to want to get better,” Walsh said. “It just describes kind of how I am as a player and my philosophy as a coach.”
Walsh explained that Ball State reflects her own principles and her own standards.
“I kind of grew up like that, blue collar. We work hard and work for each other. We do the simple, and we do it well,” Walsh said. “Our culture is just that. Working hard for each other on and off the field, that never give up mentality.”
While this is Walsh’s first season as head coach, she is not new to coaching Division 1 Field Hockey.
Walsh spent three years as a starter in the midfield and on defense at Old Dominion University (ODU), in which she helped lead her team to three NCAA Tournament appearances. She said she knew then that her time in field hockey wasn’t over.
She first was hired as an assistant coach at Davidson University, before spending the past three seasons as an assistant at Kent State University. While coaching for the Golden Flashes, Kent State went 34-18 and 20-5 in the Mid-American Conference play along with two MAC championships.
“I knew towards the end of my career at ODU, that I was not even close to being ready to give up field hockey,” Walsh said. “Having been an assistant coach for six years, I was kind of ready to take the reins myself and kind of lead my own program.”
Senior midfielder Libby Kraus and junior midfielder Emma Hilton said they knew Walsh was the right fit from the start.
Kraus and Hilton were in the interview process with Walsh and both felt Walsh met the team's value.
“We both thought she [Walsh] fit our values, as well,” Kraus said. “Once we got to know her, it just solidified that. I feel like she was the best choice we could have picked.”
Friday, Aug. 26, the Cardinals played their first game, but it was more important than just the first game of the season. It was Walsh’s first career win as a head coach.
“I kind of knew what to expect, but of course, when you're sitting in that seat, you're like, oh, wow, this is it,” Walsh said.
She explained that as a coach, she can do all she can for her players, but she is not the one playing.
“You can do your job and prepare the team, but at the end of the day, they're the ones that go out there,” Walsh said. “We prepared the team for this moment, but they're in charge at that point and they did it on [Aug. 26]. It was amazing.”
Walsh said when she first arrived to evaluate the team, some leaders stood out from the rest. There were three seniors and one junior that were chosen for the leadership team.
“[The team’s] leaders kind of have emerged just naturally,” Walsh said. “It makes it really easy for me when the leaders buy in and they want the same goals that you do for your program, so I'm really fortunate that we have a great group of leaders who want to compete.”
Kraus described the atmosphere that Walsh generates from her squad and the drive she instills into them.
“I feel like within our team, [we] all are wanting to reach the same goals with her. She's very open with us,” Kraus said. “She's very motivational. She just hypes us up by saying, ‘You guys are ready, you all know what to do. Let's just get out there and do it.’”
Hilton stated that the change in culture and environment from last season to this season has been apparent and beneficial.
“I feel like we're more team oriented and like we're playing for each other more,” Hilton said. “Working towards the same thing, rather than individuals, which I felt that we were like last year.”
Looking into the near future, Walsh believes her team is already where they need to be, and other programs in the MAC should be on the lookout.
“I do think that we can make some noise this fall,” Walsh said. “You saw us win on [Aug. 26], but there's more of that to come.”
Contact Derran Cobb with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Derran_cobb