‘My Dream Job’: Char Morett-Curtiss Reflects On Retirement From Penn State Field Hockey
Char Morett-Curtiss had her mind made up.
Coming back from field hockey practice after Penn State’s 2022 NCAA Tournament run, Morett-Curtiss addressed her team in its locker room. Looking around, she saw daughters of athletes that she had coached decades prior, All-Americans, and a group that she described as family.
“I was out there watching them, I was just so proud of them,” Morettt-Curtiss said. “I really praised them for the culture that they’ve created here at Penn State…how I appreciate how hard they work every day, how they’ve embraced our core values. And then it was like, ‘Now I want to let you know, I’ve decided I’m going to retire from coaching.'”
Morett-Curtiss stepped down from her position as the head coach of Penn State’s field hockey team in March 2023. After 36 years with the program, Morett-Curtiss was integral to Penn State Athletics, but she was also ready to retire.
Morett-Curtiss was raised in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where she was one of seven children. She grew up playing sports in the street of her neighborhood before participating at a higher level within organized athletics. Basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey were her favorites.
When she went to Penn State for college, Morett-Curtiss played the two sports that she would later coach: field hockey and lacrosse. As a lacrosse player, she won two national championships with the Nittany Lions, was named an All-American, and spent time with the U.S. Women’s National Lacrosse team.
As a field hockey player, Morett-Curtiss was one of the best of her generation. She was known as a “hot head” with massive talent. She won an Olympic medal with the United States in 1984 and has twice been inducted into the USA Field Hockey Hall of Fame — once individually and once with the 1984 Olympic team. Morett-Curtiss was also one of Penn State’s best products. As a three-time All-American, she set a program record of 50 career goals that stood for over two decades.
Morett-Curtiss still reminisces about her days as an athlete. She prefers playing over coaching, even though her back pain has kept her from it for some time. As notable as her days on the field were, Morett-Curtiss was even better on the sideline.
Morett-Curtiss began coaching field hockey as an assistant at Old Dominion in 1980. Four years later, she moved to Boston College and was hired as the Golden Eagles’ women’s lacrosse and field hockey head coach. In 1987, Morett-Curtiss left Boston to return to Happy Valley and lead the Penn State field hockey team.
“Coming back here, both situations were bittersweet, but I knew that this was my dream job. And I got to live it,” Morett-Curtiss said.
In the 36 years since Morett-Curtiss was named the head coach at Penn State, she’s become one of the most successful coaches in NCAA field hockey history. She has the fifth-most wins in NCAA field hockey at 544, produced numerous All-Americans, and has taken Penn State to the NCAA Tournament 28 times.
For Morett-Curtiss, creating those successful teams was about finding players with the right mindset. Talent is key to making a championship-level team, but so are the relationships between the players.
“Team building is really about being a good teammate, and then it’s developing leaders and helping the leaders understand the best way to lead is through their actions and talking to the players…If you’re not the leader on the team, then you need to be a contributing follower,” she said.
Symbiotic relationships between teammates are important. Having leaders and followers is crucial for a roster, but Morett-Curtiss wanted to make sure that all her players cared about each other equally.
“You’re asking the same of all of them, and that’s to be committed,” Morett-Curtiss said. “That is to work hard, to understand what commitment does look like, to support your teammates.”
Sophia Gladieux was one of the All-Americans in the room when Morett-Curtiss announced her retirement. Gladieux, who established herself as one of the best forwards in the country, understood that commitment when she came to Penn State. While Gladieux says that the players on the team cared for each other, so did their coach.
“I think it’s just so funny because, from the outside, [Morett-Curtiss is] just such a tough badass…but she does have that soft spot and she is emotional, but in the best way,” Gladieux said of her coach. “She just truly cares about us so much and loves us as her own daughters.”
With such a long tenure at Penn State, players never expected Morett-Curtiss to leave. She defined the program for so long that for some, it’s hard to picture Penn State field hockey without Morett-Curtiss.
“I really couldn’t have imagined her leaving,” Gladieux said. “You just become so used to this person that you look up to so much and this person at practice that’s always watching you.”
Morett-Curtiss didn’t plan on leaving Penn State on someone else’s terms. Over her years with the Nittany Lions, other schools tried to poach Morett-Curtiss, but she was never really interested.
“I went down to Duke in 2010…but I knew the minute I got on the plane to come back, I knew I was not going to accept an offer down there,” Morett-Curtiss said. “Really, this is where I belong.”
Despite all the success that she had at Penn State, Morett-Curtiss left the program without one honor: a national championship.
“I was a player here, we won national championships in lacrosse…I know that feeling and not being able to get it done as a coach here at Penn State is a disappointment,” she said.
It’s not that Morett-Curtiss wasn’t close. She’s reached two championship games and three semifinals as a coach at Penn State. There are a few teams that she thinks should have won an NCAA Championship, including her 2022 roster.
“It’s disappointing that I didn’t get that done,” she said. “We should have won. No doubt.”
Still, Morett-Curtiss left the program in better shape than how she found it, and she’s set the group up for success in the future. That much is clear for her successor and long-time colleague Lisa Bervinchak Love, who’s been by Morett-Curtiss’ side as an assistant and associate head coach for 29 years.
“She’s helped prepare me, she’s always had confidence in me, and she’s always trusted me,” Bervinchak Love said. “I think the next obvious step was for me to take over for her. The beauty of it is that I have been here for 29 years and there’s this consistency within the program.”
Morett-Curtiss made a point to time her retirement well. She knew her own importance to the program and wanted to make sure that her departure wouldn’t create any setbacks for the team.
“I really wouldn’t want to leave the program to the next coach who has to rebuild it. [Bervinchak Love] and I built this program over 29 years together, along with some amazing assistants…and I think it’s a good time,” she said.
Now, a new era of Penn State field hockey has arrived. A program that hasn’t seen a change in leadership in nearly four decades will get a new head coach. While Morett-Curtiss won’t be involved in the process, Bervinchak Love is ready to continue what Morett-Curtiss built.
“[I want to] just keep carrying on that tradition of coming to practice every day, playing hard, loving what you’re doing, and being a good teammate,” Bervinchak Love said. “I still want to keep that tradition going.”
Perhaps even more important is that Morett-Curtiss’ former players are prepared to move on. Penn State field hockey may be without its most successful head coach, but that doesn’t mean the success must come to an end.
“I really do think she did leave us in a good place,” Gladieux said. “Char made it so known to us that just because she’s gone, the culture isn’t changing, the dynamic isn’t changing. The standard, especially, is not changing.”
While she’s retired from Penn State field hockey, Morett-Curtiss isn’t gone from Penn State. She’s staying with the school in an advisory role as she tries to create a program for the school’s female student-athletes.
“[I have been] really thinking about an initiative project…trying to get a women’s leadership program going between our current athletes, our alums, the leaders on this campus,” Morett-Curtiss said. “That’s a vision that I have and I just want to really take my time to try to talk to some other people about how to go about putting it into motion.”
As she transitions away from Penn State field hockey, Morett-Curtiss has no reservations about leaving. The team is in good condition, she said. They’ll be back to the top soon enough.
“I’m excited for them,” Morett-Curtiss said. “I think they’re hungry…I think we’re in great shape moving forward.”
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