Maryland field hockey assistant coach Katie Bam knows how to win

Marquise McKine/The Diamondback

Published on October 27, 2017

Katie Bam was burnt out. Seventy minutes wasn’t enough time for the Maryland field hockey team to defeat North Carolina in the national championship game Nov. 21, 2010. Neither was an overtime period.

When coach Missy Meharg called a timeout at the start of the second overtime, she felt Bam, who carried the last name O’Donnell at the time, would be unable to contribute because of fatigue. Bam told the veteran coach she didn’t have any energy left, something she’d never said in her four years in College Park. She walked past her teammates and coaches to the end of the bench.

ABOVE:  Katie Bam stood out during her Maryland field hockey career, and now she’s inspiring the current team. 

Bam had won three consecutive ACC Offensive Player of the Year Awards. She would later win a fourth after her senior season. So Meharg told her she had to return. The program’s seventh national championship was on the line.

Bam sprinted onto the field after the timeout. About 40 seconds later, she possessed the ball and drove into Maryland’s offensive zone. Megan Frazer wound up with the ball, and in the 98th minute deposited it into the net to secure the title.

Now an attack-minded assistant coach on Maryland’s staff, Bam has emerged as the latest Meharg disciple to earn a collegiate coaching opportunity. As one of the most decorated athletes in Terps history, Bam has transformed the team’s offense, increasing its average goals per game since last year despite a young roster.

Her title-winning contribution serves as one instance of her perseverance, which has inspired Maryland to overcome a slow start this season.

“She really was wondering if she could do it, and I had so much respect for what I saw in her eyes and she just did it,” Meharg said. “Her trust and belief at that time in leadership — that’s why she’s such a great coach today. She understands what that trust is about.”

Getting Noticed

ABOVE: Bam playing for the Terps in the national championship against UNC. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Lucy Gil was with her family on her way to South Carolina for a summer vacation when Bam called. Gil had coached field hockey in New Jersey for 10 years before accepting the job at Wissahickon High School in Pennsylvania, where Bam was an incoming freshman.

Bam called to tell Gil that she might be late for the school team’s tryout that fall. She was busy playing with the U-16 U.S. team.

“It was at that moment that I knew she was going to be very special,” Gil said.

Bam managed to attend the tryout on time, impressing with her distinct speed. Gil was blown away by her ability to anticipate where the ball would be on the pitch, a valuable skill to make up for her height discrepancy with other players.

At 5-foot-1, Bam was almost always the smallest player on the field. But despite regularly taking hits that her mother, Kathy O’Donnell, said sent her flying, she would stand up without complaint.

At the time, it was uncharacteristic for freshmen to make the varsity field hockey squad. Bam’s sisters were forced to wait a season before joining the team.

But Bam contributed right away and helped Gil adjust to local competitors. During practices, Bam explained how the U.S. team approached practices and game scenarios. Gil listened to her first-year player.

At the end of Bam’s freshman season, the Trojans played a game at a stadium in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Four college coaches approached Gil after the contest to express interest in Bam.

“I had to say, ‘She’s a freshman, back off,” Gil said. “They knew nothing about her at the time. They were immediately interested.”

In one matchup during Bam’s junior season, the opposing team fouled her each time she received the ball. First, they just hit Bam’s stick. Then, they tripped her. Gil wanted to take Bam out of the game. It wasn’t worth the risk of an injury. Bam refused.

Bam paced Wissahickon in assists and goals every season. The school won two district titles during her stint with the program.

However, Bam didn’t enjoy the recruiting attention that came with her standout play. Her yearlong field hockey training didn’t help her attitude toward the sport.

“She was sort of sick of [field hockey],” O’Donnell said. “But now you have these coaches calling.”

Bam received a negative reaction from a coach for ordering chicken fingers during a visit to North Carolina, providing another reason to dread the recruiting process.

“I read the coach’s reaction when I got chicken fingers as being like ‘Oh lord,’” Bam said. “‘Like really, you think you’re going to have that here?’”

When Bam made the same order during her visit to College Park, Meharg, who had tracked her development since eighth grade, provided a different response. Rather than looking down on Bam, Meharg encouraged her to get what she wanted, something that indicated to Bam she would feel comfortable playing with the Terps.

“When I came here and ordered chicken fingers, Missy was like, ‘All right. Let’s go,’” Bam said. “There were massive seafood platters and all this awesome food. And I ordered chicken fingers. And she was like, ‘OK, that’s who you are.’”

Bam wore number 16, so Meharg would send emails with the subject line “16 reasons you’re not responding to my emails.” She changed her recruiting style based on Bam’s personality.

It’s something Bam remembers as she’s helped Meharg with recruiting this season. Meharg’s persistence and the family atmosphere in College Park were enough to convince Bam to join the Terps.

“She just wanted me to be here so bad and she wanted me to know she thought this was the best place for me personality-wise,” Bam said. “We were pretty honest with each other.”

A New Roadblock

ABOVE: Bam encourages the Terps after a game.(Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

After a dominant freshman campaign in College Park, Bam left for California in December 2007 with hopes of earning a place on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Field Hockey team. While most of her counterparts were in their 20s and 30s, Bam had recently received her driver’s license.

An All-American in her first season, she had already established herself as one of the best one-on-one offensive threats in the game. But she struggled as she vied for a national team spot, missing open shots and making uncharacteristic passing mistakes.

Bam didn’t make the roster. She blamed an inability to play relaxed under the pressure of earning a role. Meharg said the setback pushed her intensity to a new level.

“If I’m able to play naturally, I’m so much better,” Bam said. “I wasn’t playing well at all. It’s because I was overthinking things.”

While Bam ultimately achieved her international ambitions, competing for the United States in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, she endured a setback with the Terps in 2009.

Maryland hadn’t lost a match leading up to the national championship game that season. But the Tar Heels held Bam scoreless in a 3-2 upset.

Bam, then a junior, believed she had let the senior class down with her performance. She cried.

“She felt like she could have played better, like she could have done more,” O’Donnell said. “It was really telling that she was more upset for them than she was herself.”

Bam bounced back by helping Maryland win the 2010 title. She ended her career as the program’s leader in goals, points and assists. Those records remain intact.

“The speed of her hands and the explosiveness of her first three steps,” Meharg said of Bam’s strengths. “She’s exceptional.”

A Different Path

ABOVE: Current head coach Missy Meharg knew Bam was right to come back to the Terps. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Bam wanted to be a teacher when she was in high school. Her mother recommended coaching, but she didn’t give much consideration to the suggestion.

However, Bam became a student assistant coach on Meharg’s staff after returning from the 2012 Olympics. Due to her calm but honest nature, Meharg said the players listened to her even though she was just a few years older than them.

Bam also started a company with her husband that established local clinics and one-on-one lessons. Tjerk van Herwaarden, the head coach at Harvard and a Terps assistant while Bam was a player, took notice. In 2016, he offered her an assistant coaching job.

Meharg called and asked if Bam could return to College Park instead, but she had already accepted the position with the Crimson. After Bam spent one season at Harvard, Meharg returned with open coaching spots for Bam and her husband. They accepted the offer.

“I had an opportunity for a world class player to come back and be with me in the office,” Meharg said. “Katie represents every bit of the culture that we’re creating and that is vital for field hockey.”

When Meharg revealed the news to the team, forward Linnea Gonzales’ jaw dropped. She admired Bam growing up and mimicked her technique. She has five sticks with Bam’s signature. Midfielder Brooke DeBerdine was also ecstatic.

“She was like kind of the name of Maryland field hockey,” DeBerdine said.

Learning to Attack

ABOVE: The Terps are 12-5 this season. (Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Bam’s first season coaching Maryland’s offense didn’t start well.

During a stretch at the end of September, the Terps dropped three of four contests, all against ranked teams. They scored a combined seven times.

Bam wasn’t pleased with Gonzales at halftime in the Terps’ win against Ohio State on Oct. 13. Maryland carried a one-goal lead into the intermission, but Bam felt the attack’s energy was subpar. She demanded more.

Facing pressure from her childhood idol, Gonzales responded. About eight minutes into the second half, she took a shot from the left side of the circle that landed in the net. She clenched her fists and screamed toward the sideline, her most expressive reaction to a score this season.

She didn’t want to disappoint Bam, whose competitiveness has energized the squad.

Even weekend cornhole and pool games with the coaching staff have become a competition. Bam practices with the team. In recent weeks, she’s worked with DeBerdine on shooting technique. She’s helped midfielder Madison Maguire gain confidence in one-on-one scenarios.

The Terps have responded.

After Maryland’s initial struggles to generate offense early in games, the team has scored 24 times in its last six matches. The Terps ended the season with a 6-0 shutout of then-No. 21 Rutgers, highlighting a stretch of attacking dominance entering Sunday’s Big Ten tournament game against Michigan State.

“[Bam] is a winner,” assistant coach Stefanie Fee said. “Whatever she does, she sets for 100 miles per hour.”

That much is evident during her in-game sideline conversations.

DeBerdine was overwhelmed as the Terps’ contest against Michigan in Ann Arbor on Sept. 29 went into a second overtime. She breathed heavily. She struggled to calm down.

Bam approached DeBerdine and encouraged her to relax. As DeBerdine regrouped and entered the game, Bam marveled at her courage, having been in a comparable predicament years prior.

“[Bam’s] just a legend,” Gonzales said.


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