The mindset of “trusting the process” has been thrown around a lot when it comes to the Philadelphia 76ers in their rebuilding efforts.
The mantra has now come to Shippensburg, where first-year head coach Tara Zollinger, who grew up outside of Pittsburgh in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, is bringing the Philadelphia phrase to the SU field hockey team.
While the team is trusting the process, “the process” is much different at Shippensburg, where SU is fresh off a national title — its second in four seasons. At SU, the process is not a rebuilding one, instead, it is all about taking the next step.
“We focus on winning the moment and taking it day by day,” Zollinger said. “We’ve had a lot of time together in the preseason and we try to focus on preseason and that’s it. We focus on what we can do each day to be at our best with the talent we have. We will not be successful if we lose sight of the process.”
While Zollinger is entering her first year as a head coach, she is no stranger to success. Her impressive resume includes three Division I national championships. Zollinger won two titles as an assistant coach at Syracuse University, and another title as a player at the University of Maryland.
Working as an assistant in 2016, Syracuse completed a perfect 16-0 season with a national championship. Those experiences, coupled with the tradition of Shippensburg field hockey, is what drew Zollinger to SU.
“The tradition of excellence and legacy that is here is one of the things that attracted me to this position,” Zollinger said. “It’s a great academic institution and athletically there is a lot of support for the athletic programs. Former coach Bertie Landes did a phenomenal job building this standard and desire to be excellent. My experiences and the traditions that are here make me excited to start my first season with a great group of women.”
With the strength of her resume, Zollinger is a logical fit to replace Landes, who led SU to a 302-77-1 record — and two championships.
For Zollinger, the initial challenge was getting the team to buy into her coaching philosophies that include the team’s “four absolutes”, which are things that Zollinger says are expected of each player. Each player wrote out their goals for the season to keep the team on the right track.
“We sat down in the spring and made a list of what our standards and values are going to be in this organization and how to live to those values every single day,” Zollinger said. “These are things that connect us and they are non-negotiable. You have to do these things if you want to be a member of this team and we are committed to them.”
With a new coaching staff in place, the team benefited from its NCAA Foreign Tour. Every four years, the NCAA allows teams to travel to another country and compete internationally. The Raiders took advantage of the opportunity and traveled to Bermuda to compete against the country’s national team, as well as enjoy the beaches and come together as a unit.
Zollinger said the trip was extremely beneficial, especially for the team’s nine seniors, who stepped up to mentor incoming and younger players.
“The senior class has been great ever since I stepped onto campus,” Zollinger said. “They gave me a little bit of blind trust that I’ve tried to build into trust. They really bought into leadership roles and they realize we need everybody on our roster to be successful.”
While Zollinger did not reveal any long-term goals, her vision is clearly set on building on a team that has performed at a championship level and getting the team to play at the highest level every day.
The Raiders, equipped with experienced veterans and a fiery Zollinger at the helm, will look to make waves once again in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.