December 2, 2020

Delaying her Junior Season for PU Field Hockey, Donovan Gained Lessons in Coaching Role at PDS

TAKING OFF: Claire Donovan gets ready to hit the ball in a 2019 game during her sophomore season for the Princeton University field hockey team. Deciding to take the year off from school and defer her junior year at Princeton, Donovan has served as an assistant coach for the Princeton Day School field hockey team and taken on a side gig as a delivery driver for DoorDash. (Photo provided by Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

This fall, Claire Donovan got an early taste of life outside the Princeton University bubble and the family feeling surrounding the Tiger field hockey program.

Deciding to take the year off from school and defer her junior year at Princeton, Donovan, a back/midfielder for the Tigers, has served as an assistant coach for the Princeton Day School field hockey team and taken on a side gig as a delivery driver for DoorDash.

“In the beginning it was difficult, I was not ready to be thrown into the real world,” said Donovan, one of six Tiger field hockey players who decided to not enroll in school for the 2020-21 session.

“I am definitely learning a lot of lessons, it is a good little tease into the real world.”

Donavan’s decision to delay her junior year at Princeton came down to academics as much as athletics.

“Towards the end of the summer, we started realizing that field hockey wasn’t looking too good,” said Donovan.

“The spring online classes were not great, I was not a fan of them. Once I realized that we might be having Zoom classes again in the fall, my family thought that it might not be worth it to pay tuition to do online classes. That played a large part in my decision.”

A family connection played a large part in Donovan coming to PDS as her older sister Annabeth, a 2019 Princeton alum and a former star defender for the Tiger field hockey program, was already on the Panther coaching staff.

“Annabeth wasn’t going to be able to coach because she was still on her maternity leave,” said Donovan, the youngest of four Donovan girls to play field hockey at Princeton, as her older sisters Kaitlin ’10 and Amy ’13 also competed for the program.

“She was going to ask if I could take her position but they wanted her to stay and then they asked me to be a JV coach.”

Coming into the fall, Donovan had some preparation for her new role, having gotten into coaching over the summer, working with field players and goalies.

“I would do private lessons with some girls from my hometown and I coached a couple of camps,” said Donovan.

“With the girls I was giving private lessons to one of their friends who was a goalie, she joined in.”

Being on the sidelines rather than playing did require an adjustment for Donovan.

“It has been more difficult than I thought in terms of I am upset to not be playing and I was also getting used to the high school aspect versus college,” said Donovan, a native of Kennett Square, Pa., who was an All-State player for Unionville High and played on the U-19 U.S. national squad in 2016. “It is very different, accepting that people are playing for different reasons.”

During the fall, Donovan got to experience different aspects of coaching, working with both the varsity and JV squads with a special focus on the goalies.

“We stay together a lot, the JV and varsity, we don’t split up that much,” said Donovan.

“We practice together, there are only a couple of separated drills. I go to all the varsity games too.”

As the season went on, Donovan found herself bonding with her players.

“I am closer to them in age, it is a little different,” said Donovan. “They respect me when I need to say something serious, they listen to me when I am talking.”

PDS head coach Heather Farlow credits Donovan with playing a key role on the staff.

“To have Claire come and be able to work with us and our goalies was great,” said Farlow.

“The girls admired her. She was mature enough to offer that college perspective but also give really good feedback in a positive way. She took on working with the goalies and working with our JV and varsity girls. She was a wonderful addition. She and Annabeth are both phenomenal.”

Donovan enjoyed a special project, working with senior goalie Caroline Topping, who just took up the sport this fall when volleyball was postponed to the spring.

“Since it is her senior year, we realize we don’t have to get as into the technical aspects of it,” said Donovan.

“It is more keep the ball out of the goal. I think that has been really helpful for her. It is almost like another defender instead of getting into all of the logistics of exactly how to kick and clear the ball. It is just the mentality of it.”

For Donovan, coming to practice on a daily basis was good for her mentally.

“Even just being outside for two hours every day, it was really nice,” said Donovan, who is sharing an apartment in Lawrence with four of her field hockey classmates and a women’s soccer player in their year. “I try to get into the drills as much as I can.”

Looking to stay sharp physically for her return to competition, Donovan took the drills seriously and also got in some work across town at Princeton’s Bedford Field.

“Since I have the goalies, I will go hard at them with my shots,” said Donovan, who tallied three goals as a sophomore in the 2019 campaign and helped the Tigers advance to the NCAA title game.

“I go to Bedford a couple times a week to run on our field and play on our turf because it is a little different than the field turf at PDS.”

Off the field, Donovan hit the books as well. “I am keeping in touch with a couple of my professors and doing some readings for their classes,” said Donovan. “I think I am going to do an online class next semester for transfer credit.”

Getting exposed to another side of the real world, Donovan took on other part-time work to help with expenses.

“I have been a delivery driver for DoorDash, just for money to pay my rent,” said Donovan. “It is fun because it is my own hours.”

While Donovan is having fun in her hiatus from Princeton, she is looking forward to getting back on campus and getting the most out of the rest of her college career.

“I have definitely become a lot more appreciative of the fact that I even have this opportunity,” said Donovan.

“I have not regretted my decision at all. I am really happy that I have two more years.”