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Field hockey family "sticks" together

Ohio Wesleyan, Denison rivalry features mother-daughter twist

By Jennifer Gunnels

Marge Redmond believes field hockey is in her genes. Currently in her 13th season as the head coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, Redmond’s love of the game has undoubtedly been passed on to the next generation.

One daughter, Nikki Wimsatt, serves as her assistant coach for the Battling Bishops. Another daughter, PJ Soteriades, serves as the head coach for conference rival Denison. Meanwhile, Redmond’s eldest son, Gus Soteriades, is a respected umpire at the university and international level who can sometimes be found umpiring the games between Ohio Wesleyan and Denison.

Sound complicated? Not for Redmond.

“They always knew of my passion and affection for the game,” Redmond said of her five children. “I think it’s genetic.”

Redmond first picked up a hockey stick during a class at Ohio University. Described by her children as a natural athlete, Redmond played field hockey, softball, basketball and tennis at Ohio, but it was field hockey that sparked a lifelong passion.

Redmond began coaching a few years out of college after starting her family.

“I didn’t know at the time that opportunities were available to coach,” she said. “One day a friend told me to look in the paper for coaching jobs and there was an opening at a high school for a track coach. So that’s where I started, and I became the field hockey coach after that.”

After serving as the head field hockey coach at Upper Arlington High School from 1984-1997, Redmond took over the head coaching job at Ohio Wesleyan in 1999. But it was during those years at Upper Arlington that the family legacy began. All three of Redmond’s daughters played Division I field hockey. Her oldest daughter, Nikki, went on to become her assistant coach for a season at Upper Arlington, later taking over the top post there for nine seasons.

“She was never about putting us into organized sports,” Wimsatt said of her mother. “Whatever we chose to do, she let us choose freely. And then she supported us.”

After taking some time away from coaching, Wimsatt rejoined her mother on the sideline four years ago as the assistant coach at Ohio Wesleyan.

“Nikki can break down a game better than anybody I know,” Redmond said. “The team loves her. She’s compassionate and able to communicate with the players in a very authentic way.”

Meanwhile, Redmond’s youngest daughter, PJ, graduated from Ohio in 2000 with no intention of going on to coach.

“I had no interest in coaching,” Soteriades said. “In fact, I remember standing on the sideline and listening to my coach talking and saying to a teammate, ‘Doesn’t she know not all of us are going to go on and become coaches?’ Four months later I was coaching my first practice.”

After plans to go to graduate school were put on hold due to complications with her application, Soteriades was approached by the athletics department at Denison about filling in as an interim head coach.

“I thought I’d just go and finish out their season as the interim and then I would go on with my plans to attend grad school,” Soteriades said. “But I absolutely got bit by the coaching bug and have been coaching ever since.”

Soteriades led the Big Red to an NCAA tournament appearance in that first season as head coach and later guided the squad to a return trip in 2011. Denison has achieved 127 wins in 13 seasons under Soteriades’ leadership, some of the most memorable of which have come against cross-town rival Ohio Wesleyan and the familiar faces on the opposite sideline.

“I was oblivious when I started; I knew nothing about Division III or who was in my conference,” Soteriades said. “I knew I would have to face my mom at some point, but very early on I took the philosophy of just coaching one game at a time. If I had looked ahead to the idea of facing my mom at first, I would have panicked.”

Thirteen years later, the games between Ohio Wesleyan and Denison are a highlight of the season for the family and the larger community. Redmond’s oldest son, Gus, often officiates the games, and her youngest son, who recently returned from service in Afghanistan, is known to bring carloads full of friends to tailgate at the matchup. Her middle daughter, although no longer directly involved in field hockey herself, is always in attendance for the family matchup.

“It’s on everybody’s calendar that knows our family,” Gus Soteriades said. “It does become a family affair because everybody is involved.”

Both coaches agree it is the most difficult game on the schedule, not just because of the emotions involved but because of the style of play.

“It’s like playing against yourself in a way because everything I know about the game I learned from her,” Soteriades said of her mother.

Redmond says it’s just the kind of matchup she loves.

“I know that when we play Denison, we’re going to bring our best game to the field and it’s going to go down to the wire,” she said. “PJ is passionate about the game and about her players. If I had to choose a coach to go up against, it would be her.”

So far, PJ has had the upper hand in the 13-year series. She has coached the Big Red to an 18-9 mark against her mother’s Battling Bishops, including a sweep this year. Interestingly, only in 2001 have the rivals split the series. Denison currently is on a six-game win streak after dropping the previous six.

Gus, meanwhile, began umpiring while in school at Ohio and now mostly officiates at the Division I and international level. But whenever his schedule allows, he’s on the field for the matchup between his mom and sisters.

“One of us has to lose that game, but Gus can’t win!” PJ said.

While he acknowledges it is the most difficult game of his season to umpire, Soteriades says it is also the most gratifying.

“I know afterwards the respect they all have for each other and for the game, which comes down from Mom. To see the way they are playing and teaching the game the right way. I just walk away feeling really proud of being part of that game,” he said.

Gus currently serves on the umpiring committee of the Pan American Hockey Federation and previously served as the USA Field Hockey rules interpreter.

“We both very much respect him,” PJ said. “He’s knowledgeable and experienced and we need more of him in the sport.”

While Redmond is the matriarch of a family legacy in the world of collegiate field hockey, she points to the influence of her collegiate coach as the source of her family’s love for the game. Catherine Brown was Redmond’s coach at Ohio and the creator of the school’s field hockey program. She died earlier this year and will be inducted into the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame later this month. Brown gave each of Redmond’s daughters their first field hockey sticks and encouraged her son to take his first umpiring course.

“It’s very rewarding to know that I can honor my coach by passing on the legacy through my family,” Redmond said. “Our involvement in field hockey is an ongoing tribute to Catherine Brown.”