For Varsity Field Hockey Coach Mary Werkheiser, the biggest joys of coaching aren't the individual victories. They come from watching her teams grow together over the course of a season and her student-athletes grow over the course of their lifetimes.
Nonetheless, Coach Werkheiser reached an impressive marker on September 30: Norfolk Academy's victory over Nansemond-Suffolk Academy was her 400th career win.
In typical fashion, Coach Werkheiser praised her student-athletes afterward.
“I would love for the focus to be on the students and not this big milestone,” she said. “I’m proud of it, but to me, it’s all about the kids. I do this because of them.”
Coach Werkheiser joined the Academy family in 1989, serving as a Physical Education Teacher. She became Varsity Field Hockey Coach in 1996. She has won three state championships, in 2014, 2016, and 2017. In 2005, she was Academy's inaugural winner, along with Tom Duquette, of the Excellence in Coaching Award.
Over the years, she has taught and coached thousands of students.
Olivia Galiotos '22, a field hockey co-captain this season, has been on Werkheiser's teams since she was 12 years old. Werkheiser has an innate ability to make every student-athlete feel like an essential part of the team, Olivia said. She does that by pouring her emotions into helping everyone.
“She may have said it best herself yesterday when she said that she doesn't coach in X's and O's but with heart," Olivia said, and the coach's passion has spawned a team tradition. “We all wear cut-out hearts to every game to honor this."
Rachel Thetford '22, who is co-captain with Galiotos, said the combination of love and many tough practices builds the team's friendships. “I am friends with everyone on the team, and everyone has a special bond with Coach Werky."
Werkheiser's success has brought her recognition outside the Academy community. In 2019, she was inducted into the prestigious Regional Training Center Ring of Honor, which recognizes the contributions of exemplary individuals who have promoted, expanded, and enhanced field hockey in the Hampton Roads area. It pays tribute to outstanding pioneers, coaches, players, officials, and philanthropists who engender the tradition of excellence in field hockey.
Werkheiser prefers to share the limelight, though. She is quick to credit her longtime assistants, Laura Gibson and Catherine McCallum, for the program's success. McCallum also serves as Associate Director of Athletics.
Gibson has been an assistant for Werkheiser for 13 years and works with her in the Lower School Physical Education department. She agreed with Olivia that Werkheiser makes an impact because of her heart - her caring and compassion.
That heart is on display from the moment students begin first grade until well after they graduate, Gibson said. She gets to know them as Lower Schoolers, teaching fundamentals. Her players become like family - she asks them about school, their daily lives, other sports, and many more topics that have nothing to do with field hockey but make them feel appreciated.
Werkheiser attends college games, weddings, and many other events after those players have advanced beyond Academy.
“She just loves the kids so much," Gibson said. “And she loves them beyond field hockey."
During a ceremony after the 400th win, Director of Athletics Chad Byler put that number in perspective. Over the course of 25-plus years, it averages out to about 15 wins per year. Early in Werkheiser's career, teams often didn't play 15 regular season games. That means they were making deep postseason runs on a routine basis.
The family atmosphere Werkheiser has created is the reason for that success, Byler said.
“I know you girls mean the world to her," he told the current student-athletes. “And none of this could've been possible without all of the players throughout the years, and the coaches."
After the final horn sounded on the big win, the players serenaded their coach with several loud choruses of “Werky! Werky! Werky!" Many wore t-shirts, made before the season, that read "Werk for it." Others wore shirts recognizing her birthday, which came earlier in the week.
It was clear that their coach's milestone meant a lot to them, even if she wasn't going to harp on the number.
“Everyone was so excited for Coach Werky," Rachel said. “We know she doesn't like attention, but everyone was so happy and celebrating!"
Added Olivia: “Every time you win, it is great, but when the win can be celebrated with the whole school community, it is even better."
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