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Coach brings La Jolla High field hockey to new heights

La Jolla High School’s field hockey program has never been considered a powerhouse. In fact, with just three years of history behind it and with a group of players who mostly had not played before high school because Southern California is hardly a hotbed for the sport, the program could be said to be in its infancy.

That all could change this year, though. With a new coach who brings a resume dotted with the names of some of the northeast’s top college programs, the Vikings appear to be on the way up.

Paula Conway took over the program this fall. A two-time All-American center midfielder at Providence College, she coached for seven years at Georgetown, Penn State and Boston College before moving to San Diego when her husband took a job as the U.S. national team coach at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.

For the Future

The Vikings’ new coach also serves as the regional coaching director for the U.S. Field Hockey futures program.
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“I’d like to think I can teach these players something,” Conway said. “I think I’m giving them a lot more information, and at a higher level, than they’ve ever had before.”

Conway, 33, said working with high school players has been significantly different than coaching in college. The biggest challenge, she said, is teaching basic skills to freshmen and sophomores who have never played.

“Going into the preseason, I knew I had to take a step back,” Conway said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to teach the game from scratch. That’s been an investment - it just changes the drills you do and the expectations you have.”

Clearly, Conway’s influence has provided the Vikings a spark. Entering the week of Oct. 27, they were 9-3, with their only losses coming to some of the county’s top-ranked teams - Scripps Ranch and San Pasqual Academy. They are hoping to finish strong and ride their momentum into the postseason.

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Players notice

Senior Claire Mittermiller, one of La Jolla’s top scorers, has noticed an improvement with Conway at the helm.

“We’ve really turned it around this year,” Mittermiller said. “You can see the difference, and I think a lot of it has to do with her experience.”

The trick for Conway will be to build on this year’s success. She believes she can continue what she has started and establish La Jolla as a program to reckon with year after year.

“I’d love to be able to get a middle school program going to give players more experience,” Conway said. “I think we really could be a powerhouse in the county.”