Carla Hesler, who enters her 21st year at the helm of the Saint Michael's field hockey program in 2019, has established herself as one of the most successful coaches ever at the institution. Hesler is the only coach in the history of Saint Michael's Athletics to own the most victories with two different programs, having tallied 169 with field hockey and another 64 with women's lacrosse, previously guiding both programs simultaneously. The 2019 season is her 33rd as a college field hockey head coach.
Hesler also serves the College as the recreation sports coordinator.
In 2000 and 2001, Hesler's field hockey squads made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament semifinals, falling short of the national championship game by just one goal both times. Saint Michael's was the Northeast-10 Conference regular-season champion in 2000 and co-champion in 2001 and 2002.
The 2000 and 2002 NE10 Coach of the Year and the 2000 National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) North Region Coach of the Year broke SMC Athletic Hall of Fame member Anne Adams' program record with her 128th win on Sept. 29, 2012, a 3-1 triumph over 2011 NCAA Tournament qualifier American International College. During Hesler's tenure, the Purple Knights have advanced at least to the NE10 Championship semifinals seven times.
After a debut season in 1999 during which her charges went 11-6 overall and 4-2 in the league, Hesler led the Purple Knights to a 26-3 regular-season NE10 mark between 2000 and 2002. In 2002, she shared the Purple Knight Coach of the Year as the top coach in the Department of Athletics. Her 2003 team went 13-7 and went to an NE10 Championship semifinal, the 2004 team earned yet another postseason berth, and her 2005 team went 10-9 while making the NE10 postseason and finishing the season ranked 10th in the national poll.
Both her 2006 and 2007 squads advanced to the NE10 Championship semifinals and, in 2008, she guided the program to its eighth winning record in 10 years, finishing 11-8. In 2009, Hesler coached the 300th win in program history, a 3-2 victory at Assumption College on Oct. 17, and she coached her 200th field hockey game for the Purple Knights versus Southern Connecticut State University on Sept. 26. After becoming the longest-tenured active female head coach at the College in 2010, her 2011 squad posted the program's highest NE10 win total in three seasons despite fielding 12 first-years.
In 2012, Saint Michael's suffered four one-goal losses, including on Oct. 10 against Merrimack College, the NE10 regular-season champion, tournament runner-up and NCAA Tournament semifinalist. During the 2013 campaign, the Purple Knights posted their highest win total in five seasons behind their best defense in four years. Saint Michael's downed perennial national power Bentley, 3-2, on Sept. 17 before nearly springing an upset on No. 5 LIU Post on Oct. 20 but falling by a 2-1 count to the eventual national runner-up.
The 2014 season saw the Purple Knights post their highest overall and NE-10 win totals in six years, with a 9-9 season that included a 5-6 league record. On the strength of knocking off 10th-ranked Merrimack College, a 2013 NCAA Tournament Final Four qualifier, and No. 9 Saint Anselm College during consecutive early October outings, Saint Michael's was nationally ranked for four weeks, climbing as high as the ninth position. In addition to posting a school-record 17 defensive saves, the Purple and Gold registered its best save percentage (.851) since 2001 and its lowest goals-against average (1.62) in eight seasons. Saint Michael's finished top 10 in Division II in save percentage (2nd), defensive saves (5th), saves per game (5th) and GAA (10th).
During the fall of 2015, the Purple Knights chased a postseason berth all season despite returning only four starters. While going 8-10 overall and 4-8 in the NE10, Saint Michael's recorded its highest goal (43), assist (29) and point (115) totals in eight years in addition to allowing one goal or less eight times. One week after losing to two-time defending national runner-up LIU Post by a scant 1-0 final, the Purple and Gold upset No. 7 Assumption College, 2-1 in overtime, on Oct. 24.
Saint Michael's played a school-record seven overtime contests in 2016, when it went 6-12 overall and 3-9 in the NE10, with five of those games ending in setbacks, as seven losses were suffered by two goals or fewer. The Purple Knights posted an .801 save percentage as a team, their second best since 2004, and their 1.90 GAA was the second lowest since 2008. Four shutouts also matched their most in eight seasons. In 2017, Saint Michael's finished 7-11 overall and 3-9 in the NE10, with their seven shutouts - including a 1-0 shootout loss to Southern New Hampshire after 100 scoreless minutes - the most since 2001. The Purple Knights opened the year by taking No. 1 Shippensburg to overtime in a 2-1 setback to the eventual national champion.
Despite employing a largely inexperienced cast, 14 of the Purple and Gold's 19 contests were decided by two goals or fewer in 2018, including a narrow 2-1 setback to No. 1 Shippensburg, which later won its third consecutive national title. The Purple Knights registered an .800 save percentage, good for second in the NE10 and fifth in NCAA Division II. Saint Michael's took 10th-ranked Assumption College to penalty strokes in an early-October outing.
Hesler brought a wealth of field hockey experience with her to Saint Michael's. She has led her teams to a career record of 257-303-8 as head coach in a combined 32 years at Colgate University, Yale University and Saint Michael's. She also worked as an assistant coach at Boston College, Brown University, Northeastern University, Old Dominion University and Princeton University.
Hesler has been actively involved in the United States Field Hockey Association (USFHA) developmental programs, including acting as an instructor at the USA Field Hockey A, B and C Camps. She was the head coach of the USA Under-21 national team that competed in Seoul, Korea, in 1997. Hesler has coached within the USFHA Futures Program since 1990, serving as the Atlantic Region coaching director between 1990 and 1995, while hosting Region 1 tournaments at Saint Michael's.
Hesler is a 2007 graduate of the NCAA Women's Coaches' Academy, and on Nov. 1, 2009, was inducted into the New Agenda: Northeast Women's Hall of Fame, an award that honors those who have promoted sport for girls and women in New England as a coach, official and/or advocate. She also graduated from the Women's Coaches Academy and the Dimension 2 program, which are both sponsored by the NCAA and the WinStar Foundation. Hesler has earned her USA Field Hockey Level II certification.
A 1982 graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Hesler played both field hockey and lacrosse as an undergraduate, and was a member of the U.S. National Field Hockey Squad from 1979 to 1982. She participated in three National Sports Festivals in the early 1980s and was named an All-America in 1979 and 1981. On top of all that success, she was named UNH's Female Athlete of the Year in 1982 and was inducted into the University's Hall of Fame in November 2001.
The Lynnfield, Mass., native also has extensive lacrosse coaching experience, having coached at the college level for 15 years. She owns 100 wins as a collegiate coach, serving as the head coach at Old Dominion University (1983) and Colgate University (1986-89) before guiding Saint Michael's from 2001 to 2010. Hesler holds the Saint Michael's record with 64 victories. Colgate was the New York State Women's Collegiate Athletic Association runner-up in both 1986 and 1987 under Hesler.