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Greenfield’s Tara Danielson now a decade on the job at Stanford

  • Stanford field hockey coach Tara Danielson walks the sideline during her team’s game against Northwestern last season. The Greenfield native led the Cardinal to the NCAA Tournament in her 10th season on the job in Palo Alto. COURTESY/STANFORD ATHLETICS

  • Greenfield’s Tara Danielson talks to one of her players during Stanford’s victory over Quinnipiac last season. In 10 seasons with the program, Danielson has amassed a 153-59 record. COURTESY/STANFORD ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2020 4:31:26 PM
Modified: 5/21/2020 5:12:40 PM

There’s a framed picture on Tara (Jelley) Danielson’s home office desk of the 1989 Greenfield High School field hockey team. It’s a reminder of her past, when she and her Green Wave teammates won the program’s first-ever state title.

These days, Danielson remains busy trying to replicate that kind of success over 3,000 miles away.

The former UMass standout wrapped up her 10th season as the head coach of the Stanford University field hockey team last fall. With 16 wins and a trip to the NCAA Division I Tournament, it was one of the most successful seasons in her decade-long tenure.

“Time goes by pretty quickly when you’re absorbed in what you’re doing,” she offered. “It doesn’t feel like 10 years here, but at the same time, I can look back at 10 seasons of experience and really see how we’ve grown as a program. It’s gone quickly and I’ve really enjoyed my experience here.”

The Greenfield native has amassed an impressive 153-59 record in her stint so far, and the club won the 2019 America East Conference title with a victory over Monmouth. That elevated the Cardinal to the NCAA tourney, where they beat Miami (Ohio) for the program’s second-ever NCAA victory. They fell to eventual national champion North Carolina in the second round.

“The team performed very well,” lauded Danielson of the 2019 success. “Under the circumstances, I couldn’t ask more of my team. We had a tough draw in UNC — no one was getting by them last year. The best team won on that day, but I think our team has the potential to do more. We have to figure out how to put ourselves in a spot where we aren’t playing that top team early in the tournament.”

Danielson still has plenty of family in Greenfield, and she said she tries to get back to town to visit her parents every summer. She’s also been able to get back to the Northeast with her team often, and Stanford battled the likes of New Hampshire, Vermont, Brown and Harvard during the 2019 campaign.

It’s a nice chance to get back to her roots. Danielson said she found her niche in athletics during her time at Greenfield Middle School, playing basketball in seventh grade under the guidance of Al Dean. The work ethic required to play for Dean, even at a young age, was something that Danielson embraced.

“I really loved working hard and being pushed,” she offered. “He pushed our team to be fit and strong. I know it was hard, and at the time we weren’t used to that as a group, but I loved every second of it. That sense of accountability for the team, it really impacted me and set my trajectory in craving sport and that type of structure. I had been on many sports teams but never had a coach that had an expectation like that.”

Danielson said she didn’t join the field hockey team until 10th grade, but quickly took to the sport.

“My class was just really competitive,” she said. “We all fed off each other and we were hungry for that type of interaction, that competition. You find this bond in sport, it’s different than anything else… your lungs are burning and you just go through it together. I became addicted to that kind of interaction and I knew that was what I wanted to have in my life going forward.”

Danielson scored the game-winning goal in overtime to beat Danvers in the 1989 state final.

“What I remember most is the feeling of accomplishment with my teammates,” she recalled. “I don’t remember the goals, the trophies or anything like that, but I really remember that feeling of being connected with my peers. Winning something like that, it made me want to chase that feeling anywhere. To capture lightning in a bottle, that’s the ultimate goal as a team.”

When Danielson was hired at Stanford, she quickly immersed herself in the culture of the student-athlete. She said her players are challenged on the field and in the classroom. The school has an acceptance rate of just under five percent.

“I really enjoy the scholar-athlete at Stanford University,” she said. “I believe in the philosophy of being a complete person. Out here in California, it’s very far from where I started but this has been a good fit.”

Living on the West Coast certainly offers a different perspective. Danielson, whose husband Steve is an assistant coach on the Stanford staff, said she’s a New Englander at heart, but has acclimated to life on Pacific time.

“There’s a whole lot more sunny days, that’s for sure,” she said with a laugh. “Because of that, the lifestyle is very different. It suits me. I like to be outside and be active so I enjoy that benefit, but once a New England girl, always a New England girl. I love the seasons so I miss those things that take me back to my days in Greenfield and Franklin County. I try and come purposely every fall with my team to get an experience of how beautiful it is.”

Danielson said she’s taken up road biking during the coronavirus pandemic, adding a new hobby to her repertoire that she can do with her family. Like college coaches throughout the country, she’s been in contact with her team via Zoom and other social media measures.

“We did our entire spring quarter on Zoom so that’s been the way for keeping in touch,” she began. “Just making sure the team connects weekly. It’s really important during this time because it’s a huge adjustment. But it’s important to take a step back and recognize there’s some virtual fatigue. The intention is to stay connected: ‘Let’s get through this together.’ We don’t have any control of what’s going to happen in the fall so let’s stay in the present and do what we can in the moment.”

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