Sports Person of the Week
McCabe Alger All About the Details for Westbrook Field Hockey
Emily McCabe Alger is ready for her 24th year as part of the Westbrook field hockey team’s coaching staff this fall. Emily’s detail-oriented focus on making players better has helped the Knights throughout their long run of success. (Photo courtesy of Emily McCabe Alger )
Emily McCabe Alger has enjoyed quite a career as a coach with the Westbrook High School field hockey team. Emily is the longtime varsity assistant and JV head coach for the Knights, and she’s been an integral part of their success during her tenure.
Emily joined Head Coach Janet Dickey’s coaching staff at Westbrook in 1997. Emily had a wealth of coaching experience even before coming to Westbrook, learning much about field hockey by playing for legendary head coach, the late Patsy Kamercia, at Haddam-Killingworth. This year, Emily is looking to help bring Westbrook continued success in her 24th season with the Knights.
Emily was a standout sweeper at Haddam-Killingworth and earned All-Conference honors while playing alongside her twin sister goalie Beth McCabe Powers, who went on to become head coach of the Valley Regional field hockey team. After graduating, Emily moved into coaching because she found that she had a knack for deciphering the intricacies of a sport.
“I coached at both H-K middle school and high school from 1986 until 1996. I coached a year at Mitchell College. When I left Mitchell, I went to coach with Janet at Westbrook,” Emily says. “I’ve known from a pretty young age that I can see sports at a different level. I knew that I was never going to be a superior athlete, but I understood the inner workings and tactical strategies. Beth and I would sit on the couch as kindergartners watching NFL games with our dad and call out a clipping penalty before the flag was thrown. I can see things differently than a casual observer.”
While Emily had the ability to see and understand the minutiae of many sports, she found that field hockey was her primary calling as a coach.
“I like doing everything, but I feel like I was put on this earth to coach field hockey. I would be shirking my responsibility if I did something else,” says Emily, who lives in East Haddam. “That doesn’t mean I’m the best field hockey coach, but it’s what I feel driven to do.”
Emily’s proudest moment came when Westbrook tied H-K for the Class S state championship in 2016. The Knights had a thin roster, but because they played near-perfect hockey, they were able to grab a piece of the title.
“When we tied for the state championship with H-K, we had just 15 active players on our roster. There aren’t a lot of teams that can do that. The final was awesome, but beating Granby 3-1 in the semifinal was even better,” Emily says. “I couldn’t believe it was happening on the sideline. Our team played so well. They could not have played an ounce better.”
Emily believes that her biggest responsibility to her athletes is to help them become good people who find their place in the world. That begins by seeing where they fit in on a team.
“We have really good philosophies Janet and I, and Beth for that matter, too. We are very empowerment driven. Our record doesn’t matter as much of the life lessons they learn. It’s better to turn out fine young ladies than field hockey players,” Emily says. “I think sometimes kids struggle to see their place on a team or in a group. It’s not about the goal you shot, but the cut you made that opened the hole for the kid who scored the goal. You’re just as important in your role as the person who scored. That’s applicable to everything you do in life, understanding your strengths and weaknesses and what skills you bring to the table.”
Emily and Coach Dickey make an excellent team in that their strengths as coaches complement each other. Dickey is able to identify the overarching needs of her players, while Emily is able to take those directives and develop strategies on how to address those needs.
“Janet is a big-picture hockey coach. She can look at the film and know we need to work on dribble-to-hit transition, finding attack space, or finishing with purpose. I’m the person who immediately has 10 drills for those three things,” says Emily. “I don’t want to pick apart what we need to do. I want to plan how to get better, and Janet doesn’t necessarily want to plan those drills like I do. We work well together, because we don’t step on each other’s toes.”
Coach Dickey knows that it’s a luxury to have Emily on her coaching staff. Dickey has always valued Emily’s attention to detail, but she also finds that their chemistry makes coaching the Knights eminently enjoyable.
“Emily is an integral part of Westbrook field hockey and our continued culture of being one of the top teams in the league, as well as Class S,” says Dickey. “We work very well together as she is able to fine tune parts of the game that I may overlook. Plus, being together on the sideline is pure joy, and at times even very comical. She is the Ethel to my Lucy.”
The Westbrook and Valley Regional field hockey teams have a pretty deep connection. Players on both squads compete for the same Tsunami Field Hockey Club team coached by Emily during the winter. The fact that Emily’s twin sister Beth coaches for Valley further solidifies that connection.
“I hate playing Beth in big games like league finals. I can never be fully happy if our win results in Beth’s defeat. We’re identical twins. I am happy, but it still hurts me somewhere that anyone who is not a twin can’t understand,” Emily says. “In the offseason, Beth talks to me about players, and I’ll always give her the full-blown opinion. Ninety percent of the kids that play on the club team play on Westbrook or Valley. So, I have a professional opinion on a lot of her players, because they play for me in the winter.”
When Emily isn’t coaching, she works as the program coordinator for the UConn 4-H Youth Development Program in the Middlesex County Extension Center. Outside of that, Emily and her daughter Mikayla both show miniature horses at national competitions in Hunter In Hand, Trail In Hand, and Showmanship. Showing horses has been an incredible experience for Emily and her daughter.
“My daughter is 22. She’s special needs, so when we got out of the big horses, we wanted to get the little horses for her. We took it on as a way for Mikayla to be more independent as an equestrian. I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but I really do,” Emily says. “Interestingly enough, in our breed association that Mikayla competes in, Challenging Obstacles Overcoming Limitation, they don’t break out competitors with intellectual disabilities versus physical disabilities. Everyone competes together. It’s amazing. It’s a great opportunity for everyone.”
One of the biggest sources of support in Emily’s life is her husband Joe Alger. Emily feels grateful for her husband’s continued support that allows her to coach without having to worry too much about what’s happening at home.
“Behind every passionate coach who’s over-committed and does way too much, there is a spouse or partner that is driving the bus so the wheels don’t come off at home,” says Emily. “My husband is amazing. We have an entire farm to run. When I’m at practice or a game that’s hours away from where I live, that’s a lot to handle. My family is as committed to my hockey as I am.”