Colleen Norair won four VISAA Division II state field hockey championships during her high school career at Fredericksburg Academy.
She hopes to find similar success as a coach.
Norair is the new field hockey coach at Covenant, a program that is accustomed to competing for championships. The recent University of Virginia graduate is no stranger to Covenant after competing against the Eagles in field hockey and lacrosse in high school. That familiarity made Covenant an attractive option for Norair to begin her coaching career.
“Regardless of the sport, these games were always super competitive and fun to play in, so when I heard about the Covenant position being open, I was really excited to apply,” Norair said. “I knew they had a good team and came from a school that I had grown up around and respected, not only for their athletic prowess, but I also knew in general was great and that I could expect a close-knit and supportive community.”
Norair’s credentials as a player speak for themselves.
A two-time VISAA Division II Player of the Year, she led the Falcons to four straight state titles from 2012-15 before signing to play at Virginia. She finished her high school career as Fredericksburg Academy all-time leader in goals (117) and assists (47).
Collegiately, Norair was a jack-of-all-trades for the Cavaliers, playing numerous roles during her time in Charlottesville. She started 23 games for UVa, including 14 as a senior defensive midfielder, and finished with six goals and two assists. She also was a two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll recipient.
“While I was at UVa, I kind of played every position on the field, except for goalie, which really helped me as a student of the game,” Norair said.
Part of being a student of the game was watching film and learning opponents’ tendencies, which should serve Norair well at Covenant.
“One of my strengths throughout my playing career has been what I call hockey IQ,” Norair said. “I’ve always loved watching film in order to see other teams’ habits and my own habits, so that I could learn from them and adjust my game in order to maximize the team’s chances of winning. Being exposed to every position on the field helped me to see the connections between the lines and create connections among them. This connection is one of the key things that I learned along the way because a team that can create a seamless transition between lines can control counterattacks and really control the speed of the game.”
Norair credits one of her former UVa teammates, Lizzy Shim, for encouraging her to pursue the job at Covenant. The two played against one another in high school and Shim’s sister, Abi, is a rising junior with the Eagles. She talked with the Shim family about the position and decided to pursue the job.
“That definitely helped me realize that this would be a perfect fit for me,” Norair said. “Having the support of parents, as well as players, really allows for things to run smoothly.”
During her time in Charlottesville, Norair has coached several of Covenant’s players in the offseason. She coached at the USA Field Hockey Futures Level at UVa, where she was put in charge of the U14-U19 elite players. Norair also worked multiple UVa camps, including serving as co-director last fall, as well as the local Focus Camp, where she met a few Covenant players.
“I think my coaching style really reflects the way that I was a player,” Norair said. “I was never a flashy player. I wasn’t looking for any kind of glory, but you could always expect that no matter what, I was going to give 100 percent and I was going to work as hard as I could to try and win. My coaching style reflects that hard work mentality.”
During camps, Norair said she always told her players to not be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, she expected them. Her main focus was how the athletes responded and learned from the error.
“I think that how a player reacts to a mistake on the field really tells you a lot about them as an athlete,” Norair said. “The athlete that shakes it off and continues to play is the player who is going to grow the most.”
“My experience with coaching, I believe, made me a better player and coach along the way. Having both perspectives, coach and player, allowed me to adjust how I receive instructions and feedback and how I give instruction and feedback. I think that it’s really valuable to know and understand that each player is different and therefore how they receive feedback should be different.”
Norair said her coaching style is simple.
“My main philosophy with coaching is that basic skills win games,” she said. “A team that can execute basic skills well is a team that can beat anyone. I’m a firm believer that people play their best when they’re having fun, so I hope that translates into our season.”
The new Covenant coach said players can expect a lot of energy and fun when they take the pitch.
“I’m expecting the program to grow and to really hone in on their basic skills and teamwork,” Norair said. “I know that Covenant has extremely talented players and athletes and I’m excited for them to learn from me and for me to learn from them. I think that we will grow together and I’m excited for that opportunity.”
Norair said the support provided by the Covenant athletics department and administration has been overwhelming. While she hasn’t had an opportunity to address the players a team because of COVID-19, she’s looking forward to that opportunity.
“Everyone who I met, both players and staff members, have been extremely welcoming and enthusiastic,” she said. “The players who I have already coached are all extremely eager to learn and open to being coached and I love that and I’m really encouraged by that determination and excitement.”
As for goals this season, Norair can’t wait to get started.
“I want to win and I’m going to do everything in my power to help coach the team to victory,” she said. “However, winning isn’t everything and at the end of the day, growing and learning is equally important. My goal for the program is to elevate an already great team to the next level and long term.
“I know this team can win a state title.”