For Sarah Herr, playing defense has been her calling card as she worked her way up the ice hockey ladder.
“I am a natural defender; I think of myself as a defenseman,” said Herr, a Princeton resident and former Lawrenceville star who is a senior on the Williams College (Mass.) women’s hockey team.
But earlier this winter, Herr was moved from her comfort zone around the blue line up to forward. While the shift didn’t thrill her, Herr was determined to master her new role.
“If my coach wants me to play center, that’s what I am going to do,” said the 5‘2 Herr. “She asked me for a reason and I am going to do my best.”
Herr has proven to be a catalyst on the forward line for Williams, picking up six assists and giving the Ephs power play a lift.
Williams head coach Meghan Gillis is pleased with how Herr has responded to the move.
“We were looking for depth at the center position to get more players on the ice,” said Gillis.
“Our center has a lot of responsibility in the d-zone; almost like a third defender. With her defensive experience, Sarah provided immediate stability. She also brings composure and a sense of maturity to the power play. She has done a great job quarterbacking that for us; we now have the leading power play in the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference).”
Over her Williams career, Herr has been forced to deal with a lack of stability as the program has had a different head coach four straight seasons. While that situation has been challenging, Herr has relished her experience with the Ephs.
“Playing college hockey and developing the relationships with the other girls has been everything I have dreamed of,” said Herr.
“The coaching changes were not what I dreamed of. The members of the senior class have relied on each other; we have had to be there for one another.”
Herr and her classmates are determined to end their careers on a high note.
“I came into this season excited to play and make this season great,” asserted Herr.
“The senior class wants to make the season great for ourselves and the team. I am holding myself accountable to set an example. We have a very, very young team with 14 or 15 underclassmen.”
Gillis, for her part, credits the senior group with providing inspiration for the squad’s younger members.
“I had three coaches in four years when I was in college so I know what they have gone through,” said Gillis, a star forward at Bowdoin.
“They have been appropriately supportive and vocal. They want what’s best for the program and they want to leave a legacy for the younger players.”
Gillis’ arrival has been a big plus for the program, according to Herr. “I like her; it may not matter as much to my class since we are leaving but we don’t want another class to deal with new coaches and the challenges associated with that,” said Herr, who has helped freshman forward Perry McCarthy, a fellow Princeton resident and former Lawrenceville teammate, deal with the challenges of college hockey.
“Coach Gillis is doing a good job; she is a merit-based coach. If you play well, you will see ice time.”
The Ephs have been playing very well recently, having gone 7-2 in the 2012 portion of their schedule to improve to 9-7 overall and 5-3 in NESCAC play.
“I think we have been making progress,” added Herr, reflecting on a season which has seen the Ephs already more than double their win total of four last winter. “The non-conference games were good for the young players to get time and for the team to work on things.”
In Herr’s view, starting the New Year with a 9-0 win over Plymouth State helped get the Ephs rolling. “It was more than a win; we had great team play,” said Herr, who has 24 points so far in her Williams career on six goals and 18 assists.
“People weren’t trying to do things on their own. We had good control of the puck and good teamwork all the way through. Before, we weren’t playing our game and some games slipped away. It was great to see us stick to our game.”
Herr believes Williams is developing the game to do some damage down the home stretch.
“The NESCAC is a very close league and I think it is going to be even closer this year,” said Herr.
“We need to be ready for every single game and work every game. We can accomplish as much as we want. We have talent; people have to want to play with each other.”
Over her four years, Herr has accomplished a lot as person and a player.
“It has help me come into my own,” said Herr, a history major who will be working for Credit Suisse in Raleigh, N.C. after graduation.
“I am more self assured than I was as a freshman; that is to be expected. I have also gained a self reliance. Academically, it is challenging everyday and hockey is the same thing. Everyday you are expected to give your best. Some days, you may only be at 80 percent but you learn to give all of that 80 percent.”