After graduating from Keene State College in 2004, Gardner native Carly Sweeney had a decision to make.
Should she major in film studies and pursue a career in the film world or choose a different career path?
I worked in the film industry, but realized it was a lot of backbreaking work for little to no pay, she said. You really have to work your way up, so I decided I wanted a job that paid me well.
So she stayed with Keene State and took a job as an assistant hockey coach. It has led to a coaching career spanning nearly 20 years, for which she currently directs the program at New England College in Henniker, NH
The love for the game
For Sweeney, hockey has been an important part of her life, dating back to her time as the Central Mass in 1999. Player of the Year, a Mid-Wach B All-Star and league MVP under Gardner Hall of Fame coach Sally Johnson. She was also named best athlete in the class of 2000.
Sally really instilled in me the love of field hockey because we were just having so much fun, Sweeney said. That’s something I’ve been trying to do with me. When it comes down to it, it’s just a game and it should be fun. Sometimes you have to go back to those roots.
A small but tenacious competitor on the field, she earned a spot on the varsity team as a sophomore and scored her first career goal in a 2-2 draw with Oakmont.
It had a special meaning since her father Jim graduated from Oakmont.
Every time we beat Oakmont, it was always a big deal in my house because he went to Oakmont, and my mom (the former Debbie Manning) was from Gardner, she said. Both my parents were competitors and I think I learned that from them.
During her junior year, she struck again against the Spartans, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 shutout.
It was one of 15 wins for Gardner in 1998, a season in which the Wildcats clinched the district championship after an encouraging semifinal comeback against David Prouty.
Trailing 2-0 with less than five minutes to play, Gardner captain Carrie Sharron scored on a penalty shot and Sweeney equalized with 80 seconds left in the regular season. Sarah Bushey scored the winning goal in extra time.
I just remember all our fans running onto the field in a crowd scene at the end of the game, she said. That was an incredible match. I think we just had a lot of faith in ourselves, and we had players all over the field who could score. I think it starts with the coaching they believed and we believed.
The Wildcats lost the championship game 3-2 to Notre Dame Academy.
A switch to coaching and closer to home
During her senior year, the Wildcats again struggled with David Prouty in the semifinals, but lost 2-1 in overtime.
The next day she had her campus visit to Keene State, albeit in a bit of fog.
I just remember going in and talking to some film professors, and not much came out of my mouth, she said. My mother was like, say something, speak. But I was just so out of it from the night before.
Nevertheless, she was admitted to Keene State, where she was given the opportunity to play collegiate hockey for another four years.
The opportunity to play hockey in college has helped me a lot, she said. But that (high school) chapter of my life, all the teammates I had over the years, suddenly closed.
Sweeney began coaching her freshman year of college on the Gardner High freshman team, and after graduation became an assistant at Keene State College for three years.
She later graduated from Argosy University in San Diego, where she received her Masters of Business Administration and served as head field hockey coach for two seasons at La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California.
Her team advanced to the quarterfinals of the California Interscholastic Federation both years, achieving a record 19-8 in 2010.
While in California, Sweeney also worked for USA Field Hockey as a location director for the USA Field Hockey Futures program. She supervised and evaluated staff, taught the US field hockey curriculum to staff and athletes, and encouraged elite athletes to pursue higher levels of play within the Olympic development program.
However, she returned to the East Coast in 2011 when she was named head coach of the Frostburg State University hockey team in Maryland. She led the Bobcats to 38 wins in six seasons.
Wanting to live even closer to home, she took the job as head coach at New England College in 2017 and is in the midst of her fourth season at the school after missing 2020 due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
‘It’s much more fun to win matches’
Sweeney’s goal is to restore the program to the heights it once reached under legendary coach Susan Murray, whom she recalled during her playing days at KSC.
When she retired, the program plummeted again, she said. I wanted to come back in and bring it back to where it was.
Her four-year record with the Pilgrims is 25-34 (.424), with 11-7 (.611) in conference play. She has coached seven All-Conference players and considers Narragansett alum Neve Demarest one of her current players.
Every time Sweeney takes to the practice field or on game day, she harks back to her years as a Wildcat.
In the late 90s, we had a lot of (really) great people at Gardner High, she said. The athletes stayed together, played multiple sports together and we had great camaraderie and great coaches. It’s much more fun to win games, and that’s what we try to do here at New England College.
(Have a suggestion for a future Where are they Now segment? Contact Mike Richard at: [email protected] or in writing Mike Richard, 92 Boardley Road, Sandwich, MA 02563)
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