Maine Central Institute field hockey coach Nancy Hughes may be over two decades removed from her playing career but she’s not shy about grabbing a stick and showing her players how it’s done.

“She’s a really hands on coach,” senior sweeper Lexi Caldwell said. “She loves to be on the field with us. She stepped in (early in the season) and showed me a few things.”

Hughes had good mentors herself, graduating from MCI where she played for Tookie Russell, and later for Bowdoin College under Sally Lapointe. Job and family requirements have taken Hughes to three different coaching stints at her alma mater, the latest since 2006, and in each of them she’s tried to make the program a little bit better.

The Huskies reached the pinnacle this season, winning the Class C state championship for their first crown in program history. For her efforts, Hughes is the Morning Sentinel Field Hockey Coach of the Year. Also considered was Skowhegan coach Paula Doughty, who led the Indians to their 16th Class A state championship.

Hughes has put in her time with both the high school team and the town’s feeder program. With a belief that youth field hockey should parallel youth soccer programs, Hughes developed a youth program that has since been adopted by the town of Pittsfield. She continues to coach players in grades K-5 two days a week after her high school practices.

“I love field hockey,” Hughes said. “It’s such a great sport. I’ve always believed we should have good field hockey and soccer and I wanted to develop a K-12 program.”

The hard work paid off as the Huskies battled through a tough Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schedule comprised primarily of Class B teams and finished 10-4. The regular season finale against Class C rival Mount View was pivotal in Hughes’ mind. Senior day appeared to overshadow the task at hand but a halftime reminder got the team back on track for a 4-3 win and a favorable seeding in the tournament.

“From that moment on the girls never looked back,” Hughes said.

In-game and halftime adjustments are one of Hughes’ many strengths as a coach.

“At halftime she always gave us the perfect pep talk,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell added Hughes has been instrumental in her development throughout high school.

“Ever since I was a freshman she kind of took me under her wing,” she said. “She was very supportive in the summer and over the winter. She’s my English teacher as well as my coach and is one of the people I trust the most in my life.”

Hughes has always emphasized on- and off-field development of her players. On the field, she knew the Huskies had several skilled players this season and concentrated on the team’s passing. The state championship was a case in point as they dazzled Oak Hill with a display coach Betsy Gilbert said her players hadn’t seen during their season.

Off the field, Hughes has changed as her players have.

“You have to evolve,” she said. “The girls change and you have to be sensitive to that. You hope to provide a stable and safe place for them to be, but I know field hockey can’t be their whole life.”

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