Hess Returns For 2nd Stint as Franklin High’s Field Hockey Coach

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Michelle Hess is back coaching Franklin High School field hockey, a role she served for 15 years before a hiatus to raise her three children.
Issue Date: 
September, 2018
Article Body: 

The Michelle Hess era in field hockey at Franklin High is back for a second run.
Twenty-three years ago, Hess took the Panthers’ head-coaching reins, and during her 15-year stint the program, gained respect and became a formidable opponent for other teams in the Hockomock League.
Hess’ squads fell short of winning league titles, but they were often in plus-.500 territory and qualified for tourney play eight times. So, when her husband (a state trooper) experienced a time change with his job, she had to resign in 2010 to devote more time to raising the couple’s three children.
Lisa Cropper, a top-notch assistant while Hess directed the team, assumed the coaching reins and, as Hess says, “she did a phenomenal job.’’ Cropper, however, has moved on to start a field hockey program at Dean College, and she appointed Hess last May to fill the vacancy.
That choice was easy because Hess never really walked away from coaching. She coached her daughters in Franklin’s recreational league, and for the last two years, she served as a volunteer coach for Cropper as a program assistant.
“I’m thrilled and excited to be back,’’ Hess said. “The pressure will be on, because Lisa did a fantastic job. Expectations are high, and the bar is set high, but my hope is to keep that bar high.’’
Hess, who was a dynamic three-sport athlete at Medway High and a star in field hockey at Westfield State, has some definite goals. “We want to remain competitive and improve daily,’’ she emphasized. “I’d love for us to win the Kelly-Rex Division title, and we certainly want to qualify for tourney play.’’
As far as style goes, the 47-year-old Hess strives to develop teams that are well-conditioned and skilled, and her coaching demeanor is solid in so many areas. “I want our teams to be consistent, whether we’re playing a top-level squad or one of lesser ability,’’ she noted. “I’m firm, but fair, and I have high expectations. I consider myself a teacher of the sport, and the girls will know that I’m an advocate for them.’’
Hess got to know all the players in the system during her volunteer time, and she’s acutely aware that she’s inheriting a team with a solid senior nucleus and some capable underclassmen. The seniors include goalies Christina Luccini and Anna Jardine, forward-midfielder Cassi Ronan, fullback Emily Valentino and defenseman Regan Patterson.
“Our senior group is passionate and skilled,’’ she emphasized. “And, our underclassmen are hard-working, skilled and coachable. We may be a bit young but we have good talent. Our depth, however, is somewhat inexperienced as far as varsity play goes.’’
Hess, who teaches physical education at Franklin High, adheres to a common-sense philosophy of coaching. She emphasizes that reaching one’s potential and enjoying an athletic experience are the keys for winning to follow. And, when she’s compiling a roster, she prefers certain attributes.
“It’s important to have a positive attitude and to be coachable,’’ she said. “Being a good teammate is also a must and that means trusting others and accepting criticism. I also want players who are skilled, have good technique and are well-conditioned.’’
Hess, who saw many games last year, rates Mansfield and King Philip as strong competition in the Kelly-Rex Division and views Canton and Foxboro as top-notch squads in the Davenport Division. “All four programs have tradition, and they’re well-coached,’’ she noted.
Field hockey candidates will learn quickly that Hess draws delight in seeing players learn life lessons from athletics. “There are many good lessons that sports teach,’’ Hess said. “Players can learn leadership, to be compassionate and goal-oriented. Overcoming adversity is another lesson that’s learned. Being a good teammate is important as are accountability, responsibility and time management.’’
Recalling the years during her first coaching go-around, Hess points to a game against Canton in her next-to-last year as memorable. “They were a powerhouse, but we had a freshman (Katy Cronin) who would later go to Holy Cross that beat them by scoring the only goal of the match,’’ Hess recalled. “My top thrill in my first coaching stretch was just bringing some consistency and continuity to the program that had a lot of turnover with coaches. Our teams usually finished in the top three in the league.’’
Nevertheless, there were a few disappointments in her 15 years. “So often, we’d finish one win shy or a point away from qualifying for the tourney,’’ Hess said. “Five or six times that occurred, and it was disappointing to come so close and not qualify.’’
Coaches that Hess admires include Medway High’s Maryellen Hasenfuss, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick and the Celtics Brad Stevens. “Maryellen was a mentor who steered me into physical education and coaching,’’ Hess said. “Belichick is always prepared, and Stevens is prepared, too, but he’s such an advocate for his players. And, he’s got a great persona.’’
Calling her parents (Patty and Doug) role models for their support and encouragement, Hess, who also played basketball, was a Tri Valley League all-star in field hockey and softball. She was MVP at Medway in field hockey and helped lead the Mustangs to the TVL title her junior year. At Westfield State, she was part of a MASCAC title team in field hockey and a two-time conference all-star. For two seasons in softball, she pitched for the Owls.
A native of Medway, she, her husband Matt and three children live in Franklin.
The Panthers will open their season on Sept. 6 against Milford at home. That day likely is circled on Hess’ calendar, because it signifies her return to coaching. “I’ll be excited and nervous,’’ she said. “But, when the whistle blows, I’m sure I’ll settle in.’’