A living legacy
After winning three NCAA titles, Klein set to lead QU field hockey
November 11, 2023
November 11, 2023
Someday, it would be her turn. Her mother knew it, too.
Bernice Klein coached two of her three daughters at Brandywine Heights Middle School. For Nina, the youngest, it was all about the pads. She loved them. She wanted to be a goalkeeper the way other kids wanted to be attackers.
Her focus and unbending expression, visible through the metal lattice of her helmet, never changed over the years: “Go ahead, just try and score.”
Some girls took their best shot. A few of them even scored. But by the time Klein signed with UConn as a high school senior in 2013, she was viewed as one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
A decade and three national championships later, Klein is the first-year head coach with the credentials, conviction and confidence to lead Quinnipiac. After working closely with former QU head coach Becca Main for four years and spending last season as an assistant coach at Boston College, Klein is eager to build her own vision.
“It feels like I’m coming back home. We're in a position where we have the resources and the community to put this program on the map,” Klein said from her office this summer. “That's the goal. That’s always been the goal.
“I want to bring us a Big East championship. I want to bring us to the national tournament. Obviously, that's going to take time, but it's definitely part of where I see us going in the next three to five years,” Klein said, summoning that same focus and unbending expression.
The key to Klein’s aggressive timeline, she said, is recruiting elite international players such as graduate student Stella Tegtmeier from Germany, the Big East’s preseason Co-Midfielder of the Year; senior midfielder Micaela Grajales from Uruguay; junior forward Emilia Massarelli from Argentina and sophomore goalkeeper Cristina Torres from Spain.
“I have a very growth-oriented approach, but I also want to compete at a high level. I’m a firm believer that those two things can coexist,” said Klein, who won her first game as a head coach Sept. 8 with a 2-1 victory at Dartmouth.
Last season, the Bobcats played one of the toughest schedules in program history with games against six top-25 opponents. QU beat No. 22 Maine, 1-0, in Orono, but fell to the likes of No. 12 UConn and No. 13 Old Dominion, Big East rivals with national championship banners.
This year is no different for Klein with games against UConn and Old Dominion, plus two-time defending Big East champion Liberty.
“Our strength of schedule is up there with our men’s and women's ice hockey teams, so that’s the task Nina is facing,” said Main, who spent 28 years leading Quinnipiac from a Division II program to a member of the Big East, one of the elite Division I field hockey conferences.
“Nina is absolutely well prepared for this role,” Main said. “She has the perfect demeanor. She’s tough and compassionate and thoughtful, and she pushes the envelope. Those are the traits that will help her succeed.”
For a long time, Bernice Klein kept Nina’s trophies on a shelf in her apartment in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. But once QU hired her daughter as its head coach, she moved to Connecticut.
The autumn grass was replaced by artificial turf at the Quinnipiac Field Hockey Stadium. A mother was never going to miss this moment.
“Nina has always been her own person. She has this incredible determination to be the best she can be. She’s fearless that way,” Bernice Klein said. “At the same time, she’s always wanted to be a head coach. She’s always wanted to empower women.”
Any success the Bobcats achieve will be done collectively, you see. And not just on the field.
During her five-year career at UConn, Klein earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In 2017, she was named a Zag Field Hockey/NFHCA Division I National Scholar Athlete for having the highest grade-point average of any player named to the NFHCA All-America team.
Klein is every bit the field hockey evangelist in Hamden. The pitch is her pulpit. Each day she brings another message, another reason for her players to dig deeper.
“I want everyone in this program to feel like they have a spot here,” Klein said. “I don't care if you're the first person stepping onto the field or you're the last person on the roster. You belong here and this is your home.”
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