In a time in which face-to-face interaction has been virtually eliminated, for the time being, Slippery Rock University has used Zoom to iron out a rather important decision.
Slippery Rock has hired former Miami (Oh.) University assistant Rayell Heistand as the 13th field hockey head coach in program history.
“Everyone knows you get the best feelings for the best interpretations when you’re face-to-face,” Heistand said. “So having a big meeting like that over Zoom is not ideal, but I think it went really well.”
Heistand, a former All-American at the University of Connecticut and a member of the United States national field hockey team, will take over for incumbent Julie Swiney on June 1.
“We’re really excited about having her,” Slippery Rock Director of Athletics Paul Lueken said. “We’ve heard some really great things from her, and I know she’s excited about being here.”
After serving the past five seasons as an assistant coach at Miami (Oh.), earning a Masters in Sport Leadership in 2019 from Miami (Oh.), Heistand will come to Slippery Rock with the expectation of simply being ready for the fall semester in 2020.
“[I hope we can] be ready to go for the first day of preseason, mentally and physically, to hit the ground running,” Heistand said. “But also know that there are things that we cannot control. Take this time to prepare yourself for preseason.”
Heistand spent four seasons playing at UCONN, from 2008-11, and was named to two All-American teams after totaling 30 points (12 goals, six assists) as a defenseman during her 87 starts with the Huskies.
With four NCAA tournament appearances and three Big East tournament victories, Heistand has seen collegiate success, but with nine national team appearances for the United States Women’s National Field Hockey Team between 2013-15, she is also experienced the highest level of field hockey possible.
“I’ve been to a number of places, and I think that there’s a lot that I’ve learned from each place,” Heistand said. “I think each place has definitely shaped me into the person and coach that I am now. There are definitely different aspects that you can bring. You can learn what you like and don’t like.”
After her time at UCONN, Heistand helped lead Lafayette College to an NCAA tournament berth before returning to the field as a player for the USWNT from 2013-15. Following her stint with the national team, Heistand returned to coaching as an assistant at Miami (Oh.) and spent the past five years there.
Miami (Oh.) dominated the Mid-American Conference during Heistand’s tenure with the RedHawks, winning three consecutive regular-season and conference titles from 2017-19. In 2017, she helped lead Miami (Oh.) to its first-ever NCAA tournament victory.
Having played and coached at the Division I and the national team level, Lueken said he valued Heistand’s ability to know and find the players that can help Slippery Rock win more games.
“She obviously knows the game,” Lueken said. “She was a great player — she played on the world national team, All-American at UCONN. She certainly understands the level of players we need to recruit to get better on the field.”
With those connections built from her time with the USWNT and her stints in Division I, Heistand said she will look to expand her search for potential student-athletes.
“Definitely looking at the east coast because that’s the hotbed if you want to call it,” Heistand said. “Also, I’ve created relationships with people in Lousiville, and I have great contacts with people there.”
Having been in Ohio the past five years, Heistand has built connections in the area, pointing to the Midwest as a place to emphasize recruiting as well. “Our situation is in a great place for getting both sides,” Heistand said.
If the situation and fit are right for bringing in international student-athletes, Heistand said she would love to bring one or two students in.
“It gives the students kind of a different cultural aspect to it because field hockey is played differently in each individual country,” Heistand said. “You can see the different playing styles.”
Lueken joked that while the international opportunities may be limited to Canadians right now, it is a solid start.
Since interaction with the team in a face-to-face capacity is impossible, the suspension of the spring athletic season has been a challenge for everyone.
“I would say it’s interesting because everybody is experiencing new things right now, and this is just another new thing to pile on top of that,” Heistand said. “They knew Julie was leaving, but they also just found the whole spring semester was changed. And on top of that, it was like, ‘hey, here’s your new coach!'”
While Heistand does not want to overwhelm her new team with a bombardment of emails, texts, calls, etc., she has made it a priority to start to get to know everyone — returners and incoming freshmen.
“We were able to get one full Zoom meeting in, per NCAA rules,” Heistand said. “I was also able to meet with each player individually and the incoming class as well. I’ve talked to some people on the phone about things but there’s only so much you can do. Because of when the announcement was, I only had a week with the team.”
For now, Heistand said she has stressed to the team to follow the summer training packets but to not put themselves into harm’s way as gyms and facilities are still closed.
Assistant coach Missy Revesz will be returning to the staff in the fall, Lueken said.
And having already moved into a new home together, Heistand’s boyfriend Collin will be along for support, too.
“He’s pretty important to me,” Heistand laughed. “It’s pretty exciting that I’m so well supported at home. Not just from him but from both of our families.”
The field hockey season is scheduled to begin on Sept. 3 against Seton Hill, but that is subject to change as Slippery Rock has not announced whether students will return to campus in the fall yet.