Ange Bradley has turned Syracuse field hockey around after 10 years with the program
Courtesy of SU Athletics
Ange Bradley needed a map to find Syracuse. The only time she had heard of the school was in regard to its basketball team.
She was finishing the 2006 season as Richmond’s head coach when she got a call from then-SU Director of Athletics Daryl Gross.
“Come win a national championship at Syracuse,” Bradley recalled Gross saying.
“I was like, ‘Oh, OK,’” Bradley said.
Nine years into her tenure, Bradley made good on what Gross predicted, winning SU’s first national title in program history in 2015. The No. 2 Orange (13-2, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) will wrap up its regular season on Sunday and then gear up for its title defense in the postseason. And the team wouldn’t be in that position if not for the foundation Bradley has built over the past 10 years.
Under 27-year head coach Kathleen Parker, the Orange reached the NCAA tournament only three times since moving to Division I in 1982. After her contract wasn’t extended following the 2006 season, Bradley brought Syracuse to the tournament in each of the last eight seasons and is on track for another berth, currently ranked No. 2 in the country.
“We needed to learn how to win,” Bradley said.
It’s a process Bradley was used to. She went from having just seven players in her first year at Goucher College to a 15-4-1 record by Year 4. She was an assistant at Maryland when the Terrapins won the 1999 national title. She turned Richmond, “a team of mediocrity,” into one that went 42-0 in conference games in her last five seasons.
Because she started at Syracuse right away, Bradley didn’t have time to find permanent housing. Her first few months in Syracuse, she lived in brick graduate student housing building on South Campus. She remembers her neighbors “doing what normal students do” at 2 a.m. on weekends. It’s a memory she said she wants to get rid of.
When SU interviewed Bradley for the job, the latter referred to the program as “a sleeping giant,” said Gloria Nantulya, a senior on Bradley’s first SU team in 2007.
Her approach to revamping the Orange’s program was “how you do one thing is how you do all things.”
But the players Bradley inherited at Syracuse “had no level of physiology and fitness,” she said. Bradley implemented a system in her first offseason that emphasized interval training. Three times a week the Orange ran a combination of 800-, 400- and 200-meter sprints to reach up to 3.5 miles per day. Bradley tracked each player’s progress.
“We’re going to run,” Nantulya recalled Bradley saying before pausing. “A lot.”
At first, players failed to meet the goals Bradley set. But just before spring break, she gave the team a workout routine and several players thought it was too easy.
It was the same one she had given them on the first day of training in January.
Daily Orange File Photo
The fundamentals went beyond conditioning. Bradley taught her players to say, “please,” “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “you’re welcome.” The manners people learned in kindergarten were brought back up in order to build cohesion.
Bradley majored in physical education and minored in psychology at Delaware. For one of her behavioral psychology classes, she studied how rats responded to certain stimuli in order to accomplish desired results. She learned that behaviors are dictated by a combination of frustration, desperation and inspiration.
“Probably the most important thing in coaching is understanding people and what moves them and their spirit,” Bradley said. “… Everyone thinks coaching is all about inspiration, but an opponent gives desperation and frustration.”
Every Tuesday practice over the past 10 years has been known as “Competition Tuesday.” The Orange typically plays on Sunday, has Monday off and then Bradley holds the toughest practice of the week the following day.
The rules are simple. Every drill is a competition. If you lose, you run.
“We dreaded it,” said Shannon Taylor, who played three seasons at Richmond before transferring to Syracuse with Bradley.
The Orange bought in quickly. SU won 10 of its first 12 games in 2007. It went 12-7, finishing with a .632 winning percentage, its highest since 2001.
Syracuse hosted the Big East tournament in Bradley’s first year, but lost, 2-0, to Connecticut in the semifinals. The championship was also played at J.S. Coyne Stadium. Bradley made her team watch it. UConn won the final and SU’s players watched the Huskies celebrate.
“I said to the kids, ‘That’s going to be us next year celebrating the Big East championship on Connecticut’s field,’” Bradley said. “‘Picture it. Three hundred and sixty-four days away.’”
Nearly every practice that offseason, Bradley mentioned Connecticut. Every time Syracuse players looked tired, like they were going to give up or made a mistake, Bradley yelled, Taylor said.
“Remember seeing UConn celebrate!”
The Orange won the 2008 Big East championship against the Huskies on their home field. In Bradley’s second year, SU reached the final four. Syracuse has reached the NCAA tournament every year since.
After reaching the final four in 2008, Syracuse didn’t return until 2012. In the past four years, the Orange has made it to the sport’s final weekend three times.
“When I came in, I knew Syracuse was a good program,” said Alyssa Manley, who played at SU from 2012-15. “Since then, we’ve been able to make it a great program.”
After the Orange lost to North Carolina in last year’s ACC title game in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bradley again had her team watch its opponent celebrate. She knew that two weekends later, there was a bigger championship that would be on the line.
On the bus ride back from Virginia, SU stopped at a rest stop and Bradley addressed the team. Senior Liz Sack expected Bradley to yell at the team and harp on the loss.
One player was particularly distraught after missing a key shot in overtime. Bradley took advantage of the teachable moment.
“I want to thank you for missing that,’” Bradley recalled, “‘because without that, we wouldn’t be able to learn the lessons we were able to learn to make our final step to glory.’”
Two weeks later, the Orange beat the Tar Heels for its first national title in program history.
SU has already lost two games this season, but if there’s anything Bradley’s proven in the past 10 years, it’s that her teams will learn.
Katherine Sotelo | Staff Photographer
Published on October 26, 2016 at 7:20 am