BENNINGTON -- Even when Amber Cottrell was still walking the halls at Hoosick Falls Central School, she knew she wanted to coach.
Now Cottrell, 25, will get her first shot at coaching a varsity team -- but with a big caveat.
Cottrell replaces Laura Paro this year at the helm of the Mount Anthony Union High School field hockey team, and the shoes she steps into are massive.
Paro stepped down after 17 seasons at MAU, winning 127 games and navigating the Patriots to five Division I semifinals and six seasons with 10-or-more wins.
But Cottrell, who coached under Paro at the jayvee level last year, said that she is ready to take on the task.
"At first, I was sad because I liked working with Laura a lot and felt like I learned a lot from her," Cottrell said at practice on Tuesday. "Obviously, she is very knowledgeable, very well liked in the community. She is a great coach, great person. But after it kind of sunk in that someone had to step up, I was definitely interested in getting the varsity position."
When she heard that she got the position, Cottrell said she was "excited and nervous," but that the step was a natural one for her.
"I feel like when you get into coaching, this is kind of where you want to end up," Cottrell said. "It is baby steps every year. You are going to learn a little more from your girls and people you coach with and coach against."
Cottrell also has the aid of 12 returning players -- eight seniors and four juniors -- to help ease the process.
"We have a big returning group and the girls have been great with tryouts and everything," Cottrell said. "I was really excited, but I think it is going to be a really great year, especially for my first as a coach."
Senior Sam Cross said that there was a difference between tryouts this year and last year, but that Cottrell was keeping some things the same.
"There is a big difference, kind of," Cross said. "Since she is new she has to learn all the players and their positions, but we have a lot of returning players. She is really nice and stuff, she will have us tell her ideas of what drills we thought were helpful last year, and she has introduced some drills to us, too."
Even with the returning players, Cottrell still has to replace four critical starters from last year. It's a difficult task, but Cottrell said she was confident in the returning players to fill the voids.
"The girls we lost last year ... they were very integral parts of the program," Cottrell said. "You get a little bit nervous, but the girls that are here still are great and work really hard. It's great because they know from last year what it took to get so far. It's hard taking those four girls out, but the girls that are left are great and I think they are going to push the program forward."
Cottrell also added that her familiarity with the school through her stint last year has helped ease her nerves.
"I got to know the athletic department, I got to know some of the girls I brought up this year," Cottrell said. "I didn't get to know the varsity as well as I would have liked to, but we talked on the bus a little bit and I got a chance to see them play. I think it made me feel more comfortable coming into my first varsity position."
And while Cottrell may be inexperienced in terms of age, her background in field hockey will only help her.
A 2007 graduate of HFCS, Cottrell was a three-sport athlete that went on to play field hockey at Nichols for four years. After her college career ended, Cottrell returned to Hoosick to coach the modified team in 2012. In 2013, she bounced over to MAU to take over the jayvee team. Through every stop on that journey, coaching has been something Cottrell enjoyed.
"When I was younger it was more coaching in general," Cottrell said. "I knew I wanted to work with kids. I've always liked having that kind of an aspect [of] teaching someone something and seeing that light bulb moment when they actually get it. Athletics meant so much to me when I was younger, so I wanted to kind of pass that on to the other generations."
Cottrell and her team will start the season on Sept. 2 with a home game against Brattleboro.
Geoff Smith is the assistant sports editor at the Banner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GSmith_Banner.
Full fall previews, including a look at the MAU field hockey players, will be published starting next week.