June of 2020 was a time in which things were still extremely uncertain. There were a lot of things that were unknown at the time, like whether students would be back on campus. During all the uncertainty, The Rock named Rayell Hesitand the new field hockey head coach. It wouldn’t be until this September that she would finally coach her first game, however.
“There’s a lot of things that have gone into my journey to this role, it goes back to when I was little because my mom coached field hockey and she coached my sister and I,” Heistand said. “We’re really just a field hockey family.”
Field hockey is no joke to Heistand and her family, and she proved that during her time at the University of Connecticut. She started every single game for The Huskies and totaled a record of 71-16. She was a part of four NCAA tournament teams and three of her four years UConn won the Big East title. Not only did she see team success, but she also saw individual success, as she was named an All-American twice and All-Big East three times.
Coming out of college, Heistand initially went into the field of physical therapy. But after working in a clinic, she realized that it just wasn’t what she was looking for. Working at a clinic did make it clear what she actually wanted to do.
“I wanted to be in a competitive environment, where I was being pushed and I could push other people, and to me that’s coaching,” Heistand said. “[I figured] why not use the skills that I have and the things I’ve learned from lot of people in field hockey in the realm of coaching.”
Her first coaching job came in 2012, when she joined Layette College’s staff as an assistant and in her first and only year there, that team went 17-3, and won the Patriot League which qualified them for the NCAA tournament.
She left Layette and joined the staff at Miami University, where she had been for the last five seasons. At Miami, the team held a record of 65-40 over those five years and won the Mid-American Conference Championship three times and qualified for the NCAA tournament three times as well. She was able to learn a lot with the Redhawks and her experience there has carried over into her coaching philosophy.
“What I learned from my experiences at Miami is that you have to focus on the process before actually focusing on the outcome, because there are so many small things that everybody has to do right in order to improve as a team,” Heistand said. “There are so many little things that have to happen before the season and during the season in order to actually get there, it’s all about the process, because if you don’t do the process well then you’re never going to get there.”
Before taking her first head coach job, Heistand had experienced the NCAA tournament eight times (four as a player and four as an assistant coach). That success plays a lot into who she is as a coach today and she aims to bring that success with her wherever she goes. But for two years her search to find a place to do went nowhere.
“I was on the search for a head coaching position for two years before I got this job, and it kind of depends on how the coaching wheel goes,” Heistand said. “So, when this job opened up it appealed to me because I’m from Pennsylvania and it’s like a blue-collar state school.”
After two years, Heistand found herself in Northern Butler County at Slippery Rock University. Here, she will take on her first challenge, which is helping Slippery Rock return to the post season. The Rock has reached the tournament four times in the past ten years, but the program has been plagued by inconsistency. Every time they make the tournament, it has been followed by a first round exit and even more The Rock hasn’t even scored a goal in those games.
The last time The Rock made it was 2017, and in the two years that followed they tallied a record of 11-25 with only three conference wins. Slippery Rock plays in one of the toughest conferences in the country when it comes to field hockey as well. In 2019, they played nine games in which a team was in the top ten in the country. Heistand has been clear on what the team needs to do to be successful though.
“One thing we need to do is step out on the field and be ready to play, but we also play what we call SRU field hockey,” Heistand said. “What I tell the girls before every game is it’s time to raise the standards.”
Through six games thus far, that has what team has been able to do. The team currently has a record of 3-3 and won back-to-back games on the road. Heistand is in the midst of trying to implant a new playing style as well, and this is something that the team has done in stride and done well.
“I think they’re picking up [the new style of play] really well, and I think that every game we play is going to make us better,” Heistand said.
Things really came together in their second road game of the season, when they picked up an 8-0 win over Seton Hill University. Consistency will be key for the team, but in Heistand’s first stretch of games they have been able to put her new style to play.
“This is the first season that I’ve been with the whole team, so there is so much learning and growing that is happening,” Heistand said.
The field hockey team has long been recognized for their performance in the classroom and this is something that Heistand feels that she can use to her advantage. She feels that they can have both success on the field and the classroom, and the girls on the team have the ability to do so.
“When you have that intelligence, you can apply it to the field as well, and when you look at the GPA, they want to work and they want to do well, so it ties in,” Heistand said. “If you’re doing well in the classroom, you do have the effort and ability to do well on the field, and what we’ve seen and what they’re discovering is that you can do well in both.”