In the Locker Room: Emma Sanford

The Review sat down with Emma Sanford, a Colchester, England native, who joined the field hockey team as an assistant coach only five months ago, was recently named interim field hockey coach when Deb Ranieri stepped down following a decade of coaching at Oberlin. She talks about Oberlin athletics culture, her rivalry with Kate Middleton, and the future of Oberlin field hockey.

Madeline O'Meara, Sports Editor

What is your field hockey experience?

I have been involved in field hockey for 25 years as a player; I started when I was 5. I played in England for some quite prestigious clubs … I was on junior teams for the Ipswich Ladies Hockey Club. I also played for the Wimbledon Club, which is the oldest ladies club in England, and the Colchester Hockey Club in my hometown. I played two years at Miami [University of Ohio]. I started my first game freshman year and lettered. Due to some issues within the program I went back to London and my senior year [at Roehampton University of Surrey] in London … we made national finals and lost to St. Andrews. And we think we may have played against Kate Middleton.

What has your coaching career been like?

I’ve coached 7 year olds to 55 year olds — a broad range of demographics, from London to more rural areas. I came stateside two years ago. I worked at SportsOhio in Dublin, Columbus, where I headed up the field hockey, softball and youth development programs. A colleague of mine made me aware of this job here and I started Aug. 1. At the moment, I am in as the acting head coach [of the field hockey team]. [Athletic Director William] Roth is doing a national search for a head coach. [The Athletics department wants] to get the right person for the job. My job is to oversee the operation of the field hockey team to prepare the girls — keep them fit and keep them ready and then get them ready for the upcoming transition.

How has this season been? How do you see this season fitting into the future of the field hockey team?

This season has been … for me it’s an interesting season. I was brought in by Deb [Ranieri] to be a different personality and a different style of coaching. Bringing in a European and a more international point of view into our field hockey program has helped develop our players to think outside the U.S. field hockey box. The design was to begin to develop a team where we can start knocking on the door of that [North Coast Athletic Conference] tournament in the next couple years. The goal as we move into our transition is to arm our players with a high standard of basic skills, a high level of fitness — to say we are a varsity sport and we are proud to represent our college. To win games, you have to work hard in the off-season. The girls are sort of taking that in now and working together to become more fit. As we’re going to have a new coach, everyone is going to have to prove they can start. We’re looking to be more of a force within the department. The drive is to within ourselves be better first and make the College proud of who we are.

How much influence do you think William Roth has had on this sort of attitude?

I think … Mr. Roth has begun to develop a culture where athletes and staff are proud of what we do. He is a man that I particularly enjoy working for and I think they understand that there are standards that need to be attained and we have to work hard, but we have fun doing it. Oberlin College athletics are something to be enjoyed and sometimes perhaps — how do I put this politely … I think sometimes at Oberlin, people look at the Athletics department and don’t take it seriously. But being an Oberlin athlete is amazing because you’re attaining high physical and athletic standards; to be a student — athlete, to manage your time, takes a lot of effort. Starting with the AD, going down to the players, everyone is proud of what they do. The shift in the department is we want to be more accessible to the campus, to get involved in the campus community more. It is a departmental team effort and a College team effort. When [College President Marvin] Krislov takes the time to talk to my players, we feel valued and we work harder. When you enjoy it, you work harder; that’s the sort of positive environment, as a coach, that I wish to promote.

You have a young team. How do you think that will help moving into this transition?

Six freshmen, five sophomores — I think our strong base will help. In our current sophomore class, already I’m seeing potential leaders on the team. It’s really about changing attitude and about holding each other accountable for what we do. It’s our upperclassman who are blazing trails already and have definitely said, “it’s time for change, let’s do it.” We’ve got some good talent.