LOCAL TOWN PAGES - Field hockey, which has been dormant at Dean College for 25 years, will return as a varsity sports next fall and the coaching reins have been handed to Lisa Cropper, who served as Franklin High’s varsity coach for the last eight years.
“Building a new program will be challenging,’’ the 54-year-old Cropper said. “But, assembling a team from scratch will also be fun. I’ve done that before at different levels. I’ll get a chance to hand-pick players and mold the team. What’s neat is everything will be new — our equipment, cages and uniforms.’’
Cropper is a superbly qualified leader, well-versed in build championship teams and dealing with start-up programs. Her Franklin High squads qualified for tourney play all eight years she led the program and her teams captured four Kelly-Rex titles.
Her field-hockey background is extensive and dynamic but she’s no stranger to a variety of sports. She played field hockey, basketball, golf, track and softball at Walpole High. A four-year starter at UConn in field hockey, she later was an assistant for the Huskies.
For 10 years, she, her husband and two sons lived in California where she taught near San Diego at West Hills High School in Santee, Calif. She coached tennis, basketball, softball and started a field hockey program. Returning to the East Coast and settling in Franklin 17 years ago, Cropper coached varsity softball at Tri County before joining the Franklin High staff. At Franklin High, she also was an assistant in ice hockey and freshman softball coach.
In the 1990s, Cropper worked as a field hockey assistant at Boston University and also started the women’s softball program, coaching it for two years in the 1990s.
A three-time all-American midfielder in college, Cropper twice was a national champion in field hockey — once as a UConn player in 1981 and again in 1985 as an assistant coach. And, she’s still competitive in the sport. She earned roster spots for the World Cup Masters in 2014 (Netherlands) and in 2016 (Australia).
“Lisa’s background is second to none,’’ said Dean’s Athletic Director, Todd Vasey. “We got ourselves a gem. We believe she can teach the sport at a high level and she’ll be a great recruiter. We were impressed with her experience and reputation. She’s very driven and she’s a special fit for our athletic program.’’
Coaching for Dean, which now competes at the Division 3 level, will be different from Cropper’s routine of the last eight seasons. There’ll be new regulations and recruiting now is part of the job.
“There’ll be slight differences,’’ Cropper said. “The NCAA okays some time with the players in the off-season and I’ll be able to work with a player one-on-one out of season. There’s not much difference, however, from coaching a top-notch high school team to leading a Division 3 squad. The players will be dedicated, and they’ll be good at the basics. Academics will also be what’s most important. There are no scholarships awarded in Division 3 but we’ll get players who were league all-stars in high school.’’
Cropper has been on the recruiting trail, attending showcase tournaments in Virginia and Florida. She’ll also be scouting players at camps at Brown University and the University of New Hampshire. “There’s also more video to watch and more electronic communication,’’ she noted.
Acutely aware that collegiate players will be faster and stronger and a bit more skilled, Cropper, however, will adhere to seeking prospects who have the attributes she admires. “I look for players who have leadership skills, a high field hockey IQ, good field vision, and agility,’’ she emphasized. “Being coachable and able to adjust are other keys.’’
Cropper’s goals in year one will be simple, but specific. She wants her players to be competitive in every game, strive to win, be strong in goal and be tenacious on defense. “My competitive philosophy is for our players to reach their potential and use field hockey as a vehicle to be a better person,’’ she said. “Players can also learn good life lessons, like overcoming adversity and sharpening leadership skills.’’
When day one of pre-season practice arrives next summer, Cropper’s message will be succinct. “I’ll mention that we’re about to go on a fun journey and to enjoy the process that goes with the ride,’’ she emphasized. “They’ll understand that a positive culture is what we’re creating and that the group will rely on each other for support.’’
Dean College now has a new sport to showcase as it gets more involved as a Division 3 program. And, it has the right person at the right time to direct its field-hockey fortunes. Lisa Cropper is a tremendous ambassador for field hockey.