WATERVILLE — Erin Nelligan never thought she would become a field hockey coach — at least not this soon, anyways.

Sometimes, though, life has other plans.

“It’s been really hard to take a step back from playing and it really breaks my heart not to be out there, but I’m just as happy on the sideline coaching,” said Nelligan, a senior at Thomas College. “I’m just trying to do as much as I can, but it has definitely been a different role not being out there.”

Nelligan, a member of the field hockey and women’s lacrosse teams at Thomas, figured to be one of the Terriers’ top players this season after starting in all 17 games last fall. That changed this past spring, however, when she tore her ACL and meniscus after taking a draw with around four minutes left in the first half in a March 28 lacrosse game against Castleton State College.

“I would not wish it on my worst enemy but I can only grow from it,” Nelligan said. “It’s a nine-month process so it’s long, tedious and hard work. I’m just going to come back stronger.”

While Nelligan is still hopeful to be ready for lacrosse in the spring, the injury has not prevented the Walpole, Massachusetts native from making an impact on the field hockey team — albeit in a different capacity. She will serve as a student assistant with the Terriers and was also named a captain for the second straight season along with senior midfielder Brooklyn Curry and junior goalkeeper Abbie Charrier.

“She’s been a leader ever since she came here and not having her on the field is rough. Coming into the season I was a little bit scared,” Charrier, one of four Mount View High School graduates on the team, said. “I didn’t know we were going to replace such a good presence but now she’s just on the sidelines. You hear her and it’s the same things. She’s able to see a lot more because she’s not playing and so she coaches us.

“She’s a leader when it comes to defensive stuff in practice. She’ll stand right behind the cage and tell us all what to do and we’re all so extremely lucky to have her.”

While there is certainly a sense of disappointment that Nelligan will not play for the Terriers this fall, the team still believes it has what it takes to compete for a North Atlantic Conference title. Thomas was picked to finish third in the preseason coaches’ poll behind both Husson University and the University of Maine at Farmington, respectively.

“We’ve come out and we’ve surprised every team that we’ve played this year and I think we’re going to keep getting stronger,” Charrier said. “We’re going to do it to every team that we play.”

The Terriers improved to 2-3 on the season thanks to a 3-2 win over Simmons College Sunday afternoon, but their most impressive performance thus far this season came this past Wednesday against Colby College.

Thomas lost the game 4-2, but the Mules needed a pair of goals in the final seven minutes to hold off the Terriers. Over the past five seasons Thomas — who has never beaten Colby in field hockey — had lost by a combined 37-0 to the Mules and had not scored against them since 2009.

The phrase good loss may be as oxymoronic as they come in the world of collegiate athletics, yet the Terriers’ performance was certainly an encouraging one.

“This is probably one of the most talented teams that I’ve had since I’ve been here the past eight years,” Thomas head coach Andrea Thebarge said. “We’re really coming together. We played great team defense that game and I think that really helped us. Then we capitalized when we had those opportunities to do so.”

Fresh off the win over Simmons, the Terriers will look to continue their strong play this weekend when they face Mount Holyoke College and Plymouth State University on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at New Hampton School in New Hampton, New Hampshire. Thomas will begin NAC play on Friday, Sept. 25 when it travels to Castleton.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Evan_Crawley