BY IAN KAY
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 7, 2009
When Marcia Pankratz first took over as Michigan’s field hockey coach in 1996, the program was just mediocre, with a 193-183 all-time record.
But by the time she retired after the 2004 season, the Wolverines had transformed into a national powerhouse.
After a disappointing 2008 season, Michigan will again turn to Pankratz. Two days ago, the three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year was announced as successor to coach Nancy Cox, who retired Dec. 11.
“After this season, we all knew that something had to change,” junior midfielder Kelly Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said she and redshirt junior goalkeeper Paige Pickett have exchanged e-mails with Pankratz but won’t know any specifics about how on-field strategies will change until the team’s first offseason practice session next Monday.
But given Pankratz’s reputation as a disciplinarian and an intense presence on the sideline, an adjustment in demeanor is a certainty.
“Nancy Cox would nicely approach you about something you’ve done wrong,” Fitzpatrick said. “I hear Marcia will get in your face, yell at you, and tell you to do it better next time around.”
For junior forward Paige Laytos, playing under Pankratz will be a “dream come true.” Pankratz recruited Laytos during her first stint at Michigan, and the coach’s enthusiasm made a strong impression.
“It’s all about field hockey,” Laytos said. “There are no outside factors. With (Pankratz), it’s about the passion and the fire you have for the sport.”
In her nine previous seasons as the Wolverines’ head coach, Pankratz achieved results to match her passion.
After a 7-11 record in 1996, she led the program to its first-ever Big Ten title in 1997. The program’s first NCAA bid followed two years later. Then in 2001, the Wolverines won the NCAA championship, solidifying Michigan as an elite program at the national level — a status the Wolverines have yet to relinquish.
By the time she retired in 2004, Pankratz had posted a 130-49 career record, along with five Big Ten crowns and six NCAA Tournament berths.
Pankratz has spent the last four years running 4 Goals, the consulting firm she founded to aid high school athletes with the college recruiting process. She has also hosted numerous clinics and booked speaking engagements around the nation.
But the opportunity to coach at Michigan again was too good to pass up.
“I think I'm a teacher at heart,” Pankratz said through the Athletic Department. “I really missed working with the student-athletes, and I wanted to get back around those players and mentor them.”
And there is plenty of mentoring to be done after Michigan struggled to an 8-12 record in 2008, including a 3-3 mark in Big Ten play. Opponents outscored the Wolverines 50-41 and Michigan lacked consistency in crucial penalty corner situations.
While it’s yet to be determined whether Pankratz will fix these problems, her players are excited about a new approach.
“She’s there to be a coach and she’ll also really encourage you and push you to do your best,” Fitzpatrick said. “I know I personally need that and I know a lot of members of the team need that, too.”