April 9, 2009

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Power Players: Colby's Perfect Match

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

According to Karen MacCrate Henning, player of the year candidate Kate Sheridan is trusting her teammates more this season, allowing her to have more assists than goals for the first time in her superb career.
© Jeff Earickson 

When Karen MacCrate Henning took the Colby women's job two years ago, she was very comfortable with her decision. She loved the area, the school, the program and her peers.

There was just one thing she had a question about.

A name kept popping up when she talked to other players and coaches about her new team. It was a frustrating time for Henning, because she had no way of tracking down a person to go with the name.

"I kept hearing about Kate Sheridan, but I had no idea who she was," said Henning. "I had the stats and what the people said about her, but I didn't know her."

She didn't know her because shortly after Henning was hired, Sheridan - who has been arguably the White Mules' best player since she arrived on campus in 2006 - left for her junior semester abroad in Cork, Ireland.

Not that Henning would have been able to see Sheridan play until the spring. New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rules prohibit fall ball and limit the amount of time coaches can spend with players in the offseason.

But it would have been nice to put a name with a face.

As it turned out, the wait was well worth it.

"When she came in my office the first time and was sitting on the chair, I kind of realized that she had something," said Henning. "She was competitive the minute she walked through the door. It was a ‘what are we doing and when are we doing it' kind of thing. She was ready to go from the beginning."

Little did Henning know, Sheridan was going through the same process across the pond.

"I got feedback from the girls about what they could make of her, but they hadn't met with her as a coach lacrosse-wise," said Sheridan. "It was very nerve-racking not having met the coach coming in, because you don't know what to expect."

And Sheridan's take of the first sit-down meeting with Henning?

"I was really impressed. She is a tremendous coach, particularly with her knowledge of the game," she said. "It is nothing like what I've seen out of a coach before, so I was excited to have her as a coach for two years."

The relationship has quickly produced results. After an up-and-down start to the 2008 season, Colby became the first non-Middlebury team to capture the NESCAC championship, while Sheridan was named a first team All-American and league player of the year. The natural development has continued with Colby emerging as a national power this spring, knocking off then-No. 1-Salisbury and then-No. 5 Middlebury in the span of four days on its way to a current No. 3 ranking.

And Sheridan is the leading candidate for national player of the year honors.

Henning believes Sheridan's success directly translates into the growing reputation of the White Mules, which was limited to that of second tier, albeit dangerous, program.

"It's easy to have other players grow and learn when the player they look to is doing that and not satisfied," said Henning. "When you have your hardest working player getting the most recognition, it makes a coach's job a lot easier."

While Sheridan deserves the bulk of credit, Henning's ability to seamlessly transition into a new program and culture shouldn't go without its due.

After posting a record of 103-21 and winning two NCAA Division II championships in eight years at C.W. Post, Henning has proven that her methods work. As such, she could have walked onto the Waterville, Maine, campus and started instantly molding the team into her vision of a winner.

Instead, out of respect to the players and the previous coach, Henning took a more subtle approach.

"She was very responsive to the things we wanted to keep as traditions that we've always had," said Sheridan. "She was very careful about that and intertwining her own coaching style with our program. It was fortunate, because we have a pretty strong [senior] class and we've all contributed significantly since our freshmen year, so I think that helped being on the same page."

As if taking a page from Henning's adaptability, Sheridan has nuanced her game.

The leader in goals her first three seasons at Colby, Sheridan has also added playmaker to her resume. She again paces the squad in goals with 22, but also has a 33 assists - 26 more than any other player White Mule player.

It marks the first time in Sheridan's career she has had more assists than goals.

"She trusts her teammates," said Henning. "When she's not scoring goals, she trusts her teammates to step up and do it. She helps make those players around her that much better."

Judging by the 9-1 start and national ranking, it appears the team has entrusted Henning with its success.

"Karen is always giving us the confidence," said Sheridan. "She has had the confidence and the faith that we can beat any team no matter what game we're going into as long as we play our game. Having that behind us is tremendous."

It's hard to believe the player and coach were once worried about being on the same page.


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