While the winter sports season just ended and spring sports began Monday at St. Mary’s, the school’s athletic department is already planning for next year, with the hiring of head coaches for its three new programs: field hockey, co-ed crew, and girls rugby.
Athletic Director Jeff Newhall announced that Victoria Ault will serve as field hockey coach; Will Goldenheim will direct the crew program; and Olivia Benzan-Daniel will coach rugby. The teams will participate at the club level next year with an intention of moving up to sub-varsity and varsity in subsequent years, based on participation and interest.
“We feel incredibly fortunate to have attracted high-caliber coaches to implement these programs,” Newhall said. “We are very confident that Victoria, Will and Olivia possess not only a high degree of sport-specific knowledge, but also the organizational and leadership skills to build programs from the ground up.
Ault is in her first year as a history teacher and assistant girls basketball coach at St. Mary’s. She previously served as varsity girls basketball coach at George Washington Carver High School in Newark, N.J., from 2015-17. Ault also worked as a graduate assistant basketball coach at Caldwell University and Drew University, her alma mater.
Ault was a field hockey and basketball star at Mater Dei High School. She was recruited in both sports, opting to play basketball at Drew. She said she is looking forward to getting back into field hockey, a sport in which she was MVP of her team as a high school senior in 2008.
“If I could have played both (in college), I would have,” Ault said. “I’m excited to be back into coaching. I was going to pursue coaching as a career, but when I got my master’s in education I fell in love with teaching. Being at St. Mary’s gives me the opportunity to do both.’”
While the idea of starting a program from scratch is “nerve-racking,” Ault believes that will be mitigated by the culture of athletic excellence that permeates St. Mary’s.
“It’s exciting to be part of that winning culture,” she said. “St. Mary’s pushes student-athletes to be the best they possibly can be in the classroom and on the field or court. That’s what St. Mary’s embodies and I love being a part of that.”
Goldenheim comes to St. Mary’s from the Dexter Southfield School in Brookline, where he teaches high school science and coaches crew and cross country. He rowed at Brown University and has coached the sport at the middle-school, high-school, and masters levels. He is energized by the prospect of starting his own program.
“Starting the program from the ground up was the initial draw; that opportunity doesn’t come around very often,” he said. “It’s what a lot of coaches want to do. You get to mold a program from scratch exactly the way you want it.”
A Connecticut native, Goldenheim earned his bachelor’s degree at Brown and a master’s in biology at California State University Northridge. In addition to coaching at Dexter Southfield, he worked at Community Rowing in Boston as middle school outreach manager. That experience trying to familiarize and train students in a sport new to them should serve him well at St. Mary’s.
“A lot of kids have no idea what the sport is,” said Goldenheim, who will also teach science at St. Mary’s. “It’s a slow process. There are amazing opportunities for college scholarships in rowing. And it’s a sport you can do for the rest of your life.”
Goldenheim will have Dan Cahill, a state representative from Lynn and former rower at Northeastern University, as an assistant coach when the Spartans hit the water for the first time next spring.
Benzan-Daniel, will return to her alma mater, where she was a three-sport athlete, to start the girls rugby program next spring. She is the women’s rugby coach at Brandeis University, a role in which she will continue as college rugby is played in the fall. When she arrived last May at Brandeis, where she also works in information technology services, there were four players; there are now 23.
“It’s all about getting students interested,” she said. “They can bring a friend and have a lot of fun. With the right guidance and information, people will be interested. The values rugby teaches – respect and sportsmanship – easily translate to who you are as a person.”
Benzan-Daniel started playing rugby as a freshman at Holy Cross in 2010 and hasn’t stopped. She plays for Beantown RFC in the Women’s Premier League and is USA Rugby-certified as a coach and referee.
“Rugby programs are popping up and more and more high schools are getting into it,” she said. “Rugby does a lot for you on and off the field.”
St. Mary’s currently fields teams in 19 MIAA-recognized sports plus cheerleading. One of the primary reasons for adding the sports, Newhall said, is to increase the opportunities St. Mary’s student-athletes will have to play at the collegiate level.
Field hockey is the second-most played sport in the world (after soccer). Crew is one of the fastest-growing women’s sports with a 63 percent increase in participation since its inception as an NCAA sport in 1997. Newhall said St. Mary’s will be partnering with Endicott College and area crew clubs to get the program off the ground. The school has already received donated boats from generous benefactors.
Rugby is the fastest-growing women’s sport in the country. In 2017-18, there were 10 colleges offering rugby with a total of 478 female players vying for 24 scholarships (Div. 1 and 2), worth an average of $8,815, according to scholarshipstats.com.