Cowichan to California: Poland helps field hockey players achieve dreams

Crystal Poland was fortunate to get into elite university field hockey in the U.S., where she thrived as a player.

Crystal Poland was fortunate to get into elite university field hockey in the U.S., where she thrived as a player. Now as a coach she is hoping to help other young players make the same jump.

“During my high school years, I had no clue about the recruiting process in the NCAA,” said Poland, who graduated from Cowichan Secondary School in 2008 and went on to star for Northeastern University in Boston. “Coaches start recruiting players as early as Grade 8. I was very late in the recruiting process in Grade 12 and was lucky to have ended up in the NCAA the following year. I want to prepare high school girls that are interested in college field hockey early and help them with their recruiting process.”

Poland is now coaching teams and working with individual athletes in California, helping them achieve their dreams of playing in the NCAA and on the U.S. Olympic team. Having concluded her playing career recently — her four years at Northeastern wrapped up in 2012 — she brings a unique perspective to coaching.

“A tough obstacle some coaches face is not being able to demonstrate difficult skills to players who learn visually,” Poland said. “I not only explain in detail how to perform a task, but I can demonstrate all skills from my playing accomplishments and experience.”

Poland started playing with the Canadian national team at the age of 17, and earned six senior caps. She racked up an endless list of honours at Northeastern: First-Team All-American in 2011 and 2012, Second-Team All-American in 2010, Northeast Regional All-American and First-Team All-Conference every year from 2009 to 2012, CAA Rookie of the Year in 2009 and CAA Player of the Year in 2012. She finished her career as the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer with 78 career goals and 179 points, twice finishing among the top five scorers in the NCAA, and led her team to two CAA tournament finals and two NCAA tournament appearances.

Immediately after her playing career, Poland was invited to stay with the Huskies as a graduate assistant coach for two seasons, and also coached with the Boston Field Hockey Club. Now working in San Diego, Poland has a full coaching schedule. She serves as the program director at Wargles Field Hockey Club, and won the North County Tournament championship last year. As the program head coach at San Pasqual High School, Poland guided the varsity team to the Avocado East League championship in 2014 with a 9-1 record, and to the semifinals of the CIF San Diego Section playoffs.  This year, the team has again gone 9-1 in league play, and 19-8 overall.

She also works with Athletes Dojo as an international field hockey specialist, training elite-level athletes as they prepare for the NCAA, and helping to streamline the recruitment and scholarship process, as well as training current NCAA players. With the USA Field Hockey Futures Program — the pipeline to the Olympic team — Poland works with top athletes from throughout California.

Poland wants to help other athletes achieve the same dreams she had, that started in the Cowichan Valley.

“I love field hockey,” she said. “The sport has given me a lot over the years: new friends, teammates, an education, and countless life lessons from some of the best coaches. A lot of people helped me over the years and I would have missed an opportunity if it weren’t for all of their support.

“I want to mentor high school players that are dreaming of an education they might not afford without an athletic scholarship. If it weren’t for field hockey, I wouldn’t be the person I am today: independent, confident and self-motivated. I want others to have the same opportunity to challenge themselves to grow and become so much more, to strive for their absolute best and achieve their dreams.”