In the summer of 2020, Katrina Carter pretty much had her bags packed and was prepared to get on a flight to England to start a new chapter of her life. The Gilroy High and Cal-Berkeley graduate had accepted an offer to play field hockey for Reading’s first team—one of the country’s most successful clubs—to go along with a spot in the coaching development program.
Considering Carter still has goals both as a player and coach—she’s currently in the U.S. development team pool—the offer was too good to pass up.
“It was going to be really cool playing abroad and getting a different perspective on field hockey skills,” said Carter, who was second on the Cal team in goals and points in her senior 2019 season. “I would better myself as a coach as well.”
However, another spike in Covid cases put Britain in lockdown mode, curtailing Carter’s plans. Not the type to sit around, Carter started running some field hockey clinics to provide an opportunity for kids to play during the pandemic. She also took a job to be the Presentation coach, taking the team to selection tournaments where the players could be seen by college coaches.
“As I started doing this, it opened my eyes to my passion for coaching,” she said. “I kind of fell into it.”
The turn of events eventually led to recruiting efforts from several four-year programs to bring her on as a coach in some capacity. However, when her alma mater Cal came calling, Carter had another offer she couldn’t turn down.
“The conversation (with Cal director of field hockey and coach Shellie Onstead) was great,” Carter said. “She sees a lot of herself in me and believes I’m coaching for the right reasons.”
In other words, Carter said she is in the coaching profession to promote the sport of field hockey, bring added exposure to the game and help develop players through various camps, clinics and showcase tournaments. Given how University of the Pacific cut their field hockey program and Stanford came close to axing theirs, Carter hopes to be part of the solution where more schools in California will add field hockey teams in the coming years.
Coaching at Cal will allow her the opportunity to do all those things.
“I always wanted to get into coaching, but I never thought I was going to pursue college coaching right after I graduated because I am still playing for the women’s development team and still pursuing my dream to be on the national team,” she said. “Hopefully, my future will be on an Olympic team. I didn’t think I could ever pursue coaching alongside playing mostly because I’m a person who does things 100 percent in whatever I’m doing at the moment.”
Carter has quality leadership experience, having coached at some of the top club teams in the Bay Area along with a six-year coaching stint for the USA Field Hockey Nexus Program, the Olympic pipeline program that identifies and develops the nation’s top athletes.
Taking the Cal job allows her to further develop her skills as a player and her coaching acumen. Not only does Carter get to stay home—she lives in San Jose and her parents are still in Gilroy—but Carter has the full support of Onstead to work hard to expand the game statewide.
“I felt passionate to stay in California because there is so much to be done with the club system,” Carter said. “Shellie and I both share a passion for field hockey in California and using the existing format to further increase participation and provide high performance training for the age group pipeline. It’s not often you get the best of everything in a job, but this is one of those opportunities. I’m stoked.”
Onstead knew where to look when one of her assistant coaching positions became open.
“I’m thrilled to bring Katrina back to Cal,” she said on the calbears.com website. “I was happy to see her take a coaching track after her graduation, and she has become passionate about coaching and growing the game in California. Historically, I have had great success with alumni joining our staff. They have an underlying loyalty to the program and a desire to move it forward. Katrina will be an asset because of her playing career, her fresh perspective and competitiveness. It’s a great fit.”
Gilroy High field hockey coach Adam Gemar said it’s not a surprise Carter is still playing at a high level and coaching at the Division I stage.
“When she was 13 or something, she used to grab my whiteboard and draw up little plays,” Gemar said. “I guess in hindsight, she was destined to be a coach. She was into strategy, X’s and O’s and obviously is a great player. There are a few players like Katrina that are like the All Stars of Gilroy field hockey. I can name five players that were the best in my 20 some years of coaching, and K.C. was one of them.”
Carter grew up playing baseball and softball before dropping the latter to pursue field hockey after watching one of her older sister’s practices. That’s when Gemar put a stick in her hands, and the rest as they say is history.
“Adam saw that potential in me before I knew it for myself,” she said.
Carter, 24, is currently a forward on the USA women’s development team, the final stage before the national team.
“Everyone on the (development) team is really close to being on the national team,” she said. “It’s about how you do in selection tournaments. It’s tricky; I would never say how close I am to making it because you just don’t know.”
Coaching and playing simultaneously while looking to grow the game means Carter rarely has downtime and often goes from city to city on a moment’s notice. Carter has been working camps and clinics all summer at various locations throughout the Bay Area while keeping her own skills sharp.
She’s leaving soon for the East Coast for a women’s development team showcase and from there will fly to Houston to coach at the AAU Junior Olympic Games. After that, she returns to Cal to prepare for the upcoming college season.
Carter was effusive in praise for her parents, Amy and Ray, who did everything they possibly could to put Carter in a position to succeed.
Amy and Ray encouraged their four children to play sports and maximize their skills while doing them.
“Whether it was my dad spending hours throwing the ball around or taking us to the field to hit, or my mom spending hours on end on the road taking us to different practices in different cities, I got really lucky with my parents,” Carter said. “Even back then when I got into field hockey, it wasn’t exactly a cheap sport to play. They did everything they could to get me into the sport and gave me every opportunity to go across the country and play in tournaments.
“I credit my success to them. Their willingness to sacrifice their time and money for my siblings and I gave us all that we needed. It has really been a dream. I don’t believe I would’ve been a D1 hockey player if my parents weren’t willing to go out of their way to provide me that opportunity. My dream to play for the national team is still alive, and I have my parents to thank for that in this pursuit.”
Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]