As a high-level coach in the Netherlands, Tjerk van Herwaarden caught coach Missy Meharg’s attention. She offered him a place on her staff as an assistant coach in 2005, and he began a run of five national titles in seven seasons with Maryland field hockey.
But as is the case with numerous Terps assistant coaches and players, van Herwaarden garnered attention elsewhere. In 2012, he took over as Harvard’s head coach.
Despite facing an uphill battle after the program finished 3-13 in his first season, Van Herwaarden turned the Crimson around, steering the team to its most wins in program history last year.
Now, six years after he left Maryland, he’s returning to College Park to face the team and coach who gave him his start in NCAA field hockey.
“I look forward to be back at the place where it all started for me in the United States, where we had so many successes,” van Herwaarden said. “We have a very strong Harvard team that will certainly be able to compete against a team like Maryland. We set high standards for ourselves and I think this is a game where we’re going to see and find ourselves, where we are on the national level.”
The No. 3 Terps will play No. 12 Delaware on Saturday before facing No. 17 Harvard on Sunday. Maryland hasn’t played a competitive game against the Blue Hens since 2010 and last faced the Crimson in 2005.
Meharg, in her 31st year at the helm of Maryland field hockey, has faced a slew of former assistants and players. Once the game starts, she isn’t affected by her personal connections.
“I have great friends that coach and the game is the game, so it’s all very separate for me,” Meharg said. “I’m super fortunate to have had the assistant coaches that I’ve had here and that I have right now, so it doesn’t play a role in how I think during the game. I always want to win.”
Terps players have said their coach hadn’t placed emphasis on van Herwaarden’s connection with the program.
But for van Herwaarden, the chance to compete directly with his mentor is more emotional.
“I highly regard Missy as a person, I highly regard Missy as a coach,” he said. “She gave me the opportunity to come to this country, first of all, and earn my spot in NCAA [field] hockey. … [Meharg] really shaped me into the person who I am today, and I think the success we had together eventually led me to get the job that I have right now.”
van Herwaarden said he cherishes memories of winning each championship at Maryland — from 2005’s ACC Championship to 2011’s last-second goal to force overtime in the NCAA tournament final before winning the title.
And while he looks back fondly on unique memories in College Park, van Herwaarden said he won’t carry those sentiments into Sunday’s contest, as he aims to mirror the success he was once a part of with Maryland.
“Sunday [come] gametime, we’ll become competitive,” van Herwaarden said. “We’ll do what we can to win the game, and I think when all is said and done, we’ll go back to the relationship we have and that we have built in the years prior.”