By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In late October, about a week before the start of the ACC tournament, Ole Keusgen’s professional life changed. Michele Madison, who had led the University of Virginia field hockey program for 18 years, went on leave and Keusgen was named acting head coach.

His immediate focus was on guiding Cavaliers through the postseason, not on implementing any major changes to the operation. Once the season ended, however, UVA removed “acting” from his title, and Keusgen was able to start putting his stamp on a program whose staff he joined as an assistant coach in 2015.

“The tough part about that situation was, being thrown in there you have a certain idea how you want to play a game,” said Keusgen, who’d been UVA’s associate head coach since May 2021, “but you can’t really ask your team in two weeks to do it. So that’s what we use the spring for, to literally do like a 180 turn. It’s a good time to kind of implement what we want to see.”

The Wahoos have played three scrimmages this semester, with two more to come: Saturday at Duke and Sunday at North Carolina. Keusgen (whose full name is pronounced Ollie Coys-jen) said he’s been introducing his system this spring, teaching his players what he’s looking for in terms of “how we pass the ball and what angle are we passing the ball and what angle are we actually moving away from the ball to receive it. All those things are very modern, and we talk often about position-less play, being more independent and more creative, so it allows our players, who are highly talented, to actually put their talent on the field and not put it in, like, a tactical cage.”

Many of these concepts are departures from what Madison stressed, noted Keusgen, a native of Germany. “The ideas are very different,” he said. “The positions are very different. The demands to players, the communication to players, are very different.”

Ole Keusgen

He wants his players to have the freedom to make on-field decisions based on the principles they’ve mastered in training, as opposed to “me telling you, ‘In situation X you do A, B, C,’ ” Keusgen said. “The best part of that is that our players are very good, so they can handle it. If you have a team that is low skill, low hockey IQ, that would be tough. But our players are highly talented. We get top recruits. So in my opinion, you have to do it a certain way in order for them to just embrace how good they can be.”

The Hoos started from a good place this year. From a team that finished 14-7 overall in 2023, mainstays Laura Janssen and Adele Iacobucci are gone, but among the players back are Dani Mendez-Trendler (team-high 27 points last year), Noa Boterman, Taryn Tkachuk, Emily Field, Jans Croon, Mia Abello, Minnie Pollock, twins Lily and Meghen Hengerer, and goalkeepers Tyler Kennedy and Nilou Lempers.

Virginia’s incoming recruits include Suze Leemans, one of the top young players in Europe. “She will be big-time,” Keusgen said of Leemans, who’s from the Netherlands.

Carrera Lucas

Keusgen filled out his staff in February by hiring Carrera Lucas as an assistant coach. A former standout in the goal for UVA, Lucas spent the past five seasons as an assistant at Villanova.

“Our first objective was to bring someone into our program that fits in as a person, with character,” Keusgen said, “and then see, OK, what skills do we need? Carrera was really a no-brainer. She obviously is an alum and knows the program. I coached her for four years. She also brings a very detailed skill set from the goalie perspective. We needed a goalie expert. She’s a goalie expert, and her knowledge about [technology is] quite impressive. She worked for some time with the national team. So that will enhance our program too. She literally fit in that niche that we needed in the best possible way.”

Alyssa Parker

The Cavaliers’ other assistant, Alyssa Parker, is heading into her fourth season on the staff.

“Alyssa is a great coach,” Keusgen said, “but more important, I think, is just how she treats our student-athletes and makes them feel. Feedback can be harsh, but it always is in a way that doesn’t take away your confidence. If you want to give players ownership and they need to make decisions that might be creative, they need to have confidence, and if they don’t have that confidence they can never execute it. With those two coaches”—Lucas and Parker—“I think the delivery is demanding, but it’s in a way that it doesn’t destroy or hurt [players’] level of confidence. They understand where it’s coming from.”

In Keusgen’s six games as acting head coach last season, Virginia posted a 4-2 record, with both losses to eventual NCAA champion North Carolina. In the NCAA quarterfinals, UVA blanked Maryland 4-0 to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2019.

That wasn’t the first time Keusgen has been in charge of a team. He’s a former head coach of the U.S. women’s under-19 national team and the US Rise national team. He’s also been head coach of the men’s and women’s first teams in the Oberhausener club in Germany.

He wasn’t sure if he’d get an opportunity to lead a college team in the United States, but “it always has been a dream,” Keusgen said. “From day one [Virginia] I pretty much said, ‘OK, I want to learn. What do I need to know in order to one day maybe be able to do that myself?’ ”

As associate head coach, he had significant responsibilities, so the transition to his new role hasn’t overwhelmed Keusgen. But he’s spent considerable time contemplating what he can do to ensure his players have a good experience in the program.

On the day that UVA athletics director Carla Williams “offered me the job and I signed, that struck me: What positive impact do I want to have on those student-athletes every year?” Keusgen said. “And that was something that kept me awake a lot at night just thinking about it: ‘OK, what positive influence can I have or can we have as a coaching staff?’ ”

As head coach, he’s also spokesman for the program, and that periodically means answering question in interviews and at press conferences.

“It was something I had to adjust to,” Keusgen said, smiling. “I’m not naturally made for the spotlight, and I’m literally learning lessons. That was something that I had to prepare for and get over my own shy, quiet self.”

Field hockey became a varsity sport at the University in 1973. Since then, Virginia has advanced to the NCAA tournament 27 times, with six appearances in the Final Four. The Cavaliers have never won an NCAA title in the sport—they have yet to reach the championship game—but that’s a realistic goal for the program, Keusgen said.

“It really begins with us and ends with us,” he said. “Are we able to execute? Are we able to challenge ourselves in practice every day to get better? But there’s no reason we can’t.”

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Meghen Hengerer (12) and Dani Mendez-Trendler (19)