Maya Gompper and Clare Brush used to practice a few hundred yards from the giant “M” on the south end of Michigan Stadium. They would run drills, work on their skills and listen to the words, advice and direction of Pioneer field hockey coach Jane Nixon practically in the shadow of the big block M.
It was never said, but understood – if you dedicate yourself and follow the Pioneer blueprint, you could someday cross the street and be a Wolverine. It seemed so close yet so far away.
Pioneer field hockey is not only the most successful program in the state – perhaps the Midwest – but it also makes dreams happen. She would deny it or laugh it off, but Jane Nixon is a dream maker.
“I would not be able to be competing successfully at this level of athletics if it were not for Jane’s positive mantras running through my head during tough times,” says Gompper. “Athletics in college has many difficult sides to it mentally and the way that Jane taught me to think is a large part of why I am here at Michigan and loving it. She helped me develop a mental edge. She was consistently positive and over the course of my three years with her, I developed a very similar positive inner monologue when it came to field hockey and sports. I did not have this before PFH and I credit this new habit almost entirely to Jane.”
Brush says that Nixon “emphasizes the mental piece of sports.”
“She focuses on positivity and how to be a great supportive teammate,” she says. “I carried the messages of hard work, positivity and the importance of the team, the team, the team from my time at Pioneer and it is this that prepared me the most for my time as an athlete at Michigan.”
Gompper appeared in all 21 games in the midfield last year as a sophomore and was Academic All-Big Ten and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar selection. She has appeared in every game this season, including two starts.
She was a two-time All-State selection (2015-16) and was a member of three Pioneer state championship teams (2014, 2015, 2016).
“I think what made our Pioneer teams so successful was a genuine desire to succeed from everyone,” she said. “Each of us cared deeply about the team, the program, and each other. The team was always the number one priority – team dinners, team cheers, team time spent together outside of practice, etc. All of the teams I played on at Pioneer were genuinely friends with each other, which made us want to succeed for each other.
“We focused on our attitude, desire to win, and desire to continue to represent the program in the way it always has been. Pioneer is a legacy!”
Brush, who missed most of last season because of an injury, made the NFHCA Collegiate National Academic Team as a junior. Now healthy, Brush in enjoying an outstanding senior year for the Wolverines. She has played in every game and has started the last eight games in which Michigan has gone 7-1.
Brush was named All-State in 2014 and 2015 and played on three championship teams at Pioneer (2012, 2014, 2015).
“In each of my four years, Jane brought a group of talented field hockey players and athletes together to form strong teams,” Brush said. “In addition, an emphasis on fitness gave us a competitive edge.
“Jane Nixon is great. She cultivates a winning culture and our legacy lives on in the team. Playing for team with a tradition of excellence raises expectations and encourages top performance.”
Gompper says the program continues to play at such a high level because of everything that has come before it.
“When I came in to Pioneer, I was shown I was coming into a program of success, hard work, dedication, and love for everything PFH,” she said. “I was shown that it was not just the goal to do well, but the expectation. I know this is still the expectation from everyone and this is why we continue to do well as a program.”
And at the center is Nixon, who has been an instrumental part in making this program special through her unwavering positivity, her consistent morals, and her passion for the team and for hard work.
“The rest of the coaching staff (including April Bertin) help provide invaluable amounts of knowledge of the game and a true passion for the team,” Gompper says. “I’ve said so many times that the reason for our success was our team chemistry but that is the truth and continues to be the truth about PFH. All the teams love each other and succeed for one another.”
Gompper remembers one of those moments where some experienced advice made a huge impact in her life.
“April, having been one of Michigan’s greats, knew how to prepare me mentally and physically and certainly helped me and the rest of the team rise to that level of intensity every single practice,” she said. “Whether she remembers this or not, she pulled me aside after a loss to Huron my senior year that I took particularly hard and gave me a little tough love speech. I constantly look back on this moment and thank her endlessly for showing me a real look into what would be expected of me mentally and physically at Michigan’s level.
“Playing for Pioneer not only provided me with touches on the ball (it goes unsaid that I improved greatly at Pioneer thanks to the coaching) but also taught me the attitude I needed to play in college.”
The 40 year anniversary of PFH was celebrated earlier this month and many players returned to say thanks to a program that has given them so much. Because of that program and that success, two young ladies didn’t have to travel far – at least distance wise – to honor their coach, their school and their team, team, team.
“That night stands as an example of what this program means to everyone who has been through it,” Gompper says. “My teams at Pioneer were so successful because we cared about each other and loved every second of it.”