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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

A three-time national champion as a player, Nina Klein is building a legacy on the sideline at Quinnipiac

Aidan Sheedy
Nina Klein is currently 3-2 since taking over as Quinnipiac’s head coach on April 28.

Five months ago, Nina Klein was sitting at her desk in her office in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, when she received a phone call. The then-assistant coach for the Boston College Eagles was among several candidates being considered for the Quinnipiac field hockey head coaching gig. On the other end of the line was Sarah Fraser, deputy director of athletics at Quinnipiac. Klein picked up the phone. A few words were exchanged. The job was hers. 

“I just remember being so, so happy,” Klein said. “It was an amazing feeling. Quinnipiac was my home and (coming back) was something that I always dreamed of.”

Klein got her coaching start under former head coach Becca Main, when she was hired as an assistant coach in May 2018 before being promoted to associate head coach in July of 2019. In April of 2022, Klein left the Bobcats after four years to join the Eagles for one season in the ACC. 

In college, Klein played for five seasons as a goalkeeper for the University of Connecticut. On the field, she saw impeccable success. In addition to three NCAA national championships (2013, 2014, 2017), she set multiple program records including all-time wins (80) and shutouts (42). In 2017, Klein’s final season, she was named a First Team All-American. 

Prior to her last dance as a red-shirt senior, Klein made sure her academics were in order, working to accelerate a master’s degree in sports management. It was a decision she made to prepare for life outside of the net, yet one that would keep her entangled in the sport she loves. Paired with the experience she gained during her time as a player, Klein dove headfirst into the sea of coaching – an adventure that she initially struggled with. 

“My first job interview was at Towson (University) in Maryland. I’m very much a gut feeling person, so when I went there I was like ‘I don’t know, I don’t see myself here,”’ Klein said. “And then within two weeks of that interview, Becca Main picked up the phone.”

The phone call from Main came almost five years ago. It was a call that would signal the start of a prosperous career in Hamden. When Klein met with Main to tour the university, she felt an instant attraction. 

“As soon as I came down I was in awe,” Klein said. “The stadium and campus were both stunning. I knew something special could be built.”

But it was not during her days as a Husky when Klein realized coaching was in her future. It was much, much earlier. Having two older sisters, she grew up watching field hockey at her sisters’ games. In middle school, her mom became her first coach. The sport was a family affair, one she was constantly surrounded by. 

Klein learned very quickly that her mother would not be the last coach to leave a major impact on her. Through her years as a Husky, Bobcat, Eagle and back to a Bobcat, she played and worked under several titans of the collegiate field hockey head-coaching world. 

Klein’s year with Boston College exposed her to the likes of Kelly Doton, the school’s most formidable head coach in the nation’s most prestigious Division 1 field hockey conference. With Doton having operated the Eagles for almost a decade, Klein made sure to soak up all she could in her presence. 

As if one season with Doton and four seasons under the wings of Main — winner of 214 games, four-time coach of the year and the woman responsible for three berths in the NCAA tournament — wasn’t enough, Klein learned from and played under UConn’s illustrious Nancy Stevens for five seasons. Considered to be one of, if not the greatest collegiate field hockey coach of all time, Stevens’ 700 career wins are only second to Karen Shelton of North Carolina. Stevens dispatched Klein as her netminder in each of the Husky’s three national championship runs, and stands as the epitome of success for all coaches to model.  

“(Stephens) was my longtime coach and she’s still one of my greatest mentors,” Klein said. “Just being in a program like that, everything that we were doing was centered around winning. It was obviously exciting, but it showed that we had so much trust with our coaches.”

Now that Klein has stepped into her first full-time head coaching role, she feels comfortable knowing she has some of the game’s most knowledgeable figures in her corner whenever she needs. 

“I still have Nancy Stephens in my back pocket. She’s texted me pretty much after every game this year and offered some insight,” Klein said. “It’s been a very easy transition from player to assistant to head coach.” 

Talking with Klein’s players, it became abundantly clear how resourceful it is to have a coach not only with a player’s perspective, but fresh experience stapled to long-term success. 

“Nina just got out of college and played recently, so she knows what’s going on right now in the time which is really helpful to have,” said graduate midfielder Julianna Capello. “All of our coaches are really young, so they always know what is going on in the game, which is great.” 

Joining Klein on her support staff is first-year assistant head coach Madison Skeie, who joined the program after one year as an assistant with Monmouth University. Alongside Skeie is Abby Lucas, who enters her second year with Quinnipiac. All three played Division 1 field hockey. There are fresh faces galore in charge of Bobcat field hockey – a trend Klein feels is breathing new life into the sport. 

“There’s a lot of great depth and great knowledge with the older generation of coaches, but I do think it’s definitely exciting to bring in a new wave and a new generation,” Klein said. 

Klein realizes the importance of her assistant coaches, starting as one herself, and relies on their cooperation, expertise and commitment to the program to put the team in the best position to thrive. 

Now that Klein has had time to test the waters of what the head-coaching experience entails, she is able to contrast a few stark differences between her previous role and her current one.  Managing playing time and rosters — decisions that have an immediate impact on the success of the team — prove to be growing pains early in Klein’s career. When it came to the biggest challenge that Klein has faced so far, her answer actually had nothing to do with field hockey at all. 

“I would say (the biggest challenge) is finding time for my own self-care,” Klein said. “I’m putting a lot toward the team right now, and I want to make sure everything goes smoothly. So turning off my field hockey brain has been kind of hard.” 

Klein confessed she sometimes finds herself thinking about the team at times when she should be thinking about herself, pondering practices and players instead of winding down after a long day. She admitted she sometimes can’t shake free from her work, bringing it home with her instead of leaving it at the field. 

Why does she do it? Because she is replacing the only Quinnipiac head coach in program history, taking over for the only name the school has ever known. In Klein’s eyes, she is doing it to give Main the respect she deserves. 

“At the end of the day, I want to honor her legacy,” Klein said. “She saw the program go from division one to division two, (she saw) a change of conference and a change of mascot. I just want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to honor what she built.”

With all of her mentorship, Klein has built up an extensive collection of field hockey knowledge. She has developed her own system, one that she feels is best suited to bring success to a team she knows will work hard for it. Her mom, Doton, Stevens and Main have all molded and shaped Klein’s ideologies, allowing her to sculpt her own unique coaching style at Quinnipiac. 

“She’s very dedicated to each and every player. She’s not only a coach, but she’s our mom,” said junior forward Lucia Pompeo. “She’s all work, pushing us when we need to be pushed and listening to us when we share our opinions.” 

It is a system this year’s team has bought into — one that her players admire for its poise and harmony. 

“Nina has a really good balance of being direct and to the point, and making sure that we’re getting everything done that needs to be done,” Capello said. “(But we) also have a good time. The game is way more enjoyable when you’re having fun. We have a good balance of that.” 

It is difficult for any new coach to command a team the way Klein does. When you factor in the booming resume of Main, on top of it being Klein’s first season as the Bobcats’ leader, it can be especially difficult to conjure success on the field. 

In their first two games, Klein and the Bobcats fell hard, starting 0-2 after losses to New Hampshire and UMass. On Sept. 8, Klein would find her first career win, a 2-1 victory over Dartmouth. In the days that followed, she would celebrate her first win streak, rattling off two more wins over Bryant and Providence to give Quinnipiac a winning record on the season. 

“I’m just trying to take in every moment. Even when we won at Dartmouth, I didn’t expect to get so emotional in front of the team,” Klein said. “I don’t want to take any moment for granted, or move on and not actually take it in for what it is and feel the emotions that come up.”

In the last few months of her life, many emotions have surrounded Klein. The joy of that brief phone call in her office five months ago, to tears of her first official win as a head coach. The gratitude for all the coaches, mentors and teammates in her past, to the nostalgia of watching her sisters’ games growing up. It’s been an emotional ride up to this point, but Klein is just getting started.

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Aidan Sheedy
Aidan Sheedy, Photography Editor

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