Kelly Smith and Ally McCall have some things in common. Both teach at Mount Caesar Elementary School in Swanzey, Smith as a physical education teacher and McCall as a 1st-grade teacher. They don’t see each other very often, because COVID-19 protocols force teachers to spend as little time together as possible. But they do share one other, special, connection: Keene State College field hockey.
Both were successful field hockey players for the Owls, and their legacies remain in the school’s record book.
They graduated almost 20 years apart.
McCall said she scoured the history books once she learned Smith was also working at Mount Caesar, to learn more about her, and hopes to get a chance to talk with her more sometime down the road.
“It’s crazy,” said McCall, who graduated from Keene State in May. “Because of the pandemic, I haven’t really gotten the chance to talk to many teachers, other than my 1st-grade team. But it has been nice the few times she’s come into my room to take my kids to PE.”
“It’s been a crazy year,” said Smith, a 2001 Keene State graduate. “I’d like to regale in some field hockey stories, but we just haven’t had the chance.”
The two come from extremely different backgrounds. McCall, from Watertown, Mass., played her freshman season at the University of Vermont, a Division 1 school in Burlington.
After McCall’s freshman year, she decided she wanted to find a program that was a better fit for her. She found that program at Keene State, a school that had been recruiting her since high school. And it wasn’t just the field hockey program that she liked.
“The teaching program is just unbelievable,” McCall said. “The staff there, they literally feel like my family. I call my professors still, asking for help with things.
“The teaching program and the athletic department at Keene State — it’s unlike any other school.”
McCall, a defensive specialist on the field, recorded the second-most assists in program history (38) during her three years on the team — only one more than Smith in the record book.
Smith, on the other hand, comes from Lisbon, a small town of about 1,600 in the northern part of the state. Smith played field hockey in high school, but didn’t plan on playing much after that.
Her high school coach, Carolyn Myers, took Smith for a tour of Keene State and she fell in love.
“I really liked the area, I liked what Keene State had to offer,” Smith said. “It was far enough, but not too far, so I could still see my family.”
Smith, a forward on the field, has always wanted to be a physical education teacher, so she was focused on that in college. That was, until she decided to try out for the field hockey team.
“I didn’t expect that I’d make the team,” Smith said, “but I just felt like if I didn’t try then I’d always wonder, ‘Could I have done it?’ So I walked on and, as they say, the rest is history.”
Over the next four years, Smith was selected as a second-team All-American twice, a first-team All-Region forward and a two-time Little East Player of the Year, as well as being named to the All-Conference first team in three consecutive seasons. She finished her career as the program’s all-time leader in assists (37) and second all-time in goals (51) and points (139).
Even with their different backgrounds, and 20 years separating their college days, once they found their way to Keene State, they both ran into head coach Amy Watson, now in her 31st year with the Owls.
The seven-time Little East Conference coach of the year remembers coaching both stand-outs and noticed a few similarities between the athletes.
“Both were really driven in their work ethic. They practiced hard. They practiced like they played and left everything out there on the field,” Watson said. “That work ethic really stands out and draws the line between both of them and other players on the team.”
But the differences were evident as well.
“I knew about Ally before she came to Keene State,” Watson said. “She was on our radar screen to recruit when she was a sophomore and junior in high school. I was hoping we could get her, and then she decided to go Division 1. But then she resurfaced a year later when she wasn’t happy at her original college. So, that was different. The whole ‘getting her’ process was different than Kelly.”
And Watson enjoyed reminiscing on Smith’s “getting her” story. One that she said is one of her favorites.
“I had no idea who Kelly Smith was the first day of preseason until she ran over to the field and asked if she could try out,” Watson said. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So then she ran back to her dorm and got all of her stuff.
“And, I’ll never forget this, she jumped onto the field for our drills and all of a sudden, she was doing a running drill and she was beating everybody. She was looking to her left, looking to her right like, ‘Where is everybody?’ — like it was the weirdest thing to her that she was beating everybody,” she added with a laugh.
And it was no surprise to Watson that both Smith and McCall found success in teaching shortly after graduation.
“I just think that desire to go out and get what they want, to compete for the job, I’m sure they take those same skills and try to instill them in their students,” Watson said. “I’m just really proud of who they are and what they’re doing. And I love that they have the Keene State field hockey fabric as part of who they are.”
And both McCall and Smith said that their Keene State pride is mutual.
“Keene has brought so many people into my life, the education program and the athletic program, that really helped me get to where I am today,” McCall said. “Clearly that happened for Kelly, too, 20 years ago. So that really says something about Keene and what Keene is.”