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THe Nuzzy Behind the Numbers "Play for those who Can't"

By Gabby Guerard

This is it.

Amanda “Nuzzy” Nusbaum takes one look around the locker room. She throws up her hand and gives a slight wave.

“Everyone in! Let’s go! Everyone!” she calls.

Everyone on the Springfield College field hockey team is ready.

Ponytails braided: check.

Cleats tied: check.

Nerves eating away at the players’ insides: check.

The Pride gather together in a circle, like they do before every game. But instead of the team’s usual jumping and yelling to get hyped up for the game, Nusbaum has a different approach.

She grabs the hands of her teammates to her left and to her right, interlocking fingertips.

Surprised, everyone else follows.

Nusbaum leans in, eyes wide, eyebrows raised.

She doesn’t shout.

She isn’t dramatic.

That’s not the Nusbaum everyone knows.

She is calm. She is passionate. She is focused.

When the Pride played Smith College earlier in the season, it wasn’t an ordinary game. It was supposed to be a win for Kristina Krull.

“Smith took something from us,” she states. “They beat us 5-0. That number was supposed to mean something different. Let’s take it back from them!”

“If we come out like we did against MIT, they will beat us. We need to score early and often. We need to play hard.”

Each player knew what needed to happen. It was NEWMAC Tournament Semifinals.

It was do or die.

Even in the final moments before Nusbaum took Stagg Field with the Pride for the last time, she focused on making sure her teammates were ready.

“Ask her where the team finished and what goals we accomplished, and she could tell you,” said Springfield College field hockey head coach Melissa Sharpe. “Ask her what she got for an individual award, and she’ll be like ‘I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you.’”

She always put the team before her statistics, despite putting together a senior-season for the books.

Nusbaum broke three records -- most assists in a single game (4), most assists in a single season (23), and most assists in a career (46).

She was also named an NCAA statistical champion, leading the entire nation, including Divisions I, II, and III, with an assist per game average of 1.28.

The nature of hockey has always come naturally to Nusbaum. Whether it was on the field, like Kristina, or on the ice, like Scotty.

After such a season, it’s hard to believe that back in 2012, Nusbaum wasn’t even sure if she could continue playing the sport.

___

Nusbaum first met Carissa Lang (now known as Carissa Karafa) at church. While she didn’t know it yet, in just a few years, Lang would prove to be much more than a field hockey coach to Nusbaum.

“I could tell that as a 13-year-old kid, she was serious about what she wanted to do, and had an understanding that she was giving a first impression, and that she wanted to give a good one,” Lang recalled.

Nusbaum (left) with Carissa Lang (right)

Once she saw her on the field, Lang was even more deeply impressed.

“She worked harder than her body would let her sometimes,” Lang said. “She just wanted to be the best that she could be for herself, for her teammates, for me, and I could see that from the beginning.”

For Nusbaum, she was in the right hands. As a former collegiate field hockey player, and a physical education teacher who values fitness, nutrition, and wellness, Lang knew exactly how to push Nusbaum.

“She was an animal,” Nusbaum remembered thinking. “Her work ethic was unreal, so she just kind of taught me all that. Basically everything I know.”

Lang taught her the only way she knew how.

“Every single day, you knew you were going to run,” said Nusbaum. “And if I wasn’t in the front, she’d let me know, ‘Why aren’t you in the front?’ So then I’d get to the front, and then she’s like, ‘You’re not far enough in front!’ So then I’d have to go more.”

“She saw people’s potential before they saw it in themselves, and then she would bring it out of them, and that made her the best coach I’ve ever had.”

But it was all because Lang knew that Nusbaum could have a bright field hockey career ahead of her. Lang even told her as a freshman, that she could play Division III right now if she wanted to.

“Being from a small town, there hadn’t been a lot of people who had gone and played collegiate field hockey,” Nusbaum explained. “If she hadn’t been like, ‘You have the potential to play,’ I probably wouldn’t have considered it.”

___

The following summer, everything got put on hold.

“For a while I wasn’t good. I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping, I just lost contact with everything,” Nusbaum recalled. “I wasn’t sure if I could play field hockey. It was one of those things that was just debilitating- mentally, physically, emotionally.”

Nusbaum’s childhood best friend, Scotty Katonka, was a passenger in a car that was driving too fast with too many people.

KATONKA (left) AND NUSBAUM (right)

The vehicle crashed, and Katonka died on impact.

“That threw me into this whole like, basically depression. I lost connection to everything,” said Nusbaum.

Lang noticed right away.

“I could see the struggle on her face,” explained Lang. “At that point, we were getting to know each other well, and I could tell that she needed some extra support … I just continued to check in regularly, like ‘How’s it going?’ and ‘It’s all right that you don’t feel okay today,’ and ‘Let’s push through.’”

This was exactly what Nusbaum needed.

“Coach Lang brought me back from that and was like, ‘It’s very devastating, but would he want you to be in this state?’” Nusbaum remembered. “She was like, ‘You’ve got to channel it. Channel this into something else.’ So, that’s when I just channeled it into getting fit, getting stronger again, and I channeled it all into field hockey.”

It proved to be more than a sport.

“I don’t want to say it saved my life, but kind of. Coach Lang definitely did, and my parents obviously have been huge supporters,” said Nusbaum. “But it’s just like, you’ve got to work your ass off, because you never know. You just never know.”

Since that moment, Nusbaum has stepped onto the field each and every day with one motivation.

Play for people who can’t anymore.

Nusbaum carried this passion to Alden Street years later, but it didn’t stop there. Before the end of her career with the Pride, its meaning would transform even further, because of the remarkable influence of Kristina Krull.

___

Sharpe will never forget the day she met Krull.

After playing at UMass Lowell for two seasons and studying engineering, Krull transferred to Springfield to study exercise science.

Sharpe recalled meeting with Krull, who said, “‘I could do this, but when my father passed away, I realized life was short and I need to live out my life and do what I really have a passion for, and it’s not engineering. This is a program that would fit.’”

Sharpe was immediately impressed by her maturity, honesty, and “brilliant mind.”

KRISTINA KRULL BECAME A ROLE MODEL TO NUSBAUM ON DAY ONE

Krull completed the entire exercise science program in two years, while playing both field hockey and lacrosse, completing an internship at Quinnipiac University, and managed to maintain the highest GPA of all the female student-athletes on campus as a senior.

Her work ethic stood out just as much on Stagg Field, as it did in the classroom.

“Her feet never stopped moving,” said Sharpe. “She was that kid, if you’re in a drill and you miss the ball, talk about accountability- I never had to say ‘Kristina, could you try that again?’ she would just go get it, put the ball down, and do it again.”

Meanwhile, after years of developing a new and improved work ethic, Nusbaum was blown away by Krull.

As a freshman, Nusbaum’s first impression of Krull was finding out that the senior had not only completed, but successfully passed, five rigorous fitness tests, in addition to participating in two preseason sessions, all in one day. At the time, players typically completed these tests over the course of a few days, due to their exhaustive nature.

“That’s unreal. I’ve never even heard of anyone [doing that], so that’s when I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl is a different breed,’” Nusbaum remembered.

“When you talk about work ethic, people say I have a good work ethic, and I’m like, I don’t even scratch the surface when it comes to people like Kristina. I never heard her complain about anything ever, about doing a drill, about running, nothing. Ever.”

___

It all changed.

Again.

“When Coach Sharpe called me over the summer, I can just remember not even registering [it],” Nusbaum said.

After an invisible battle with mental health, Krull died by suicide on July 25, 2018, two years after graduating from Springfield College.

“Every other scenario that came into my mind made more sense than her taking her own life,” said Nusbaum.

Again, she had to channel it, and the only way she knew how was through field hockey.

“I mean, that’ll drive you, I can tell you that,” Nusbaum said. “The hardest working, most resilient person you’ve ever met just couldn’t do it anymore. Like, s---! How do you even make sense of that? You can’t.”

For Nusbaum, it means you’ve got to work harder.

It means there are no excuses.

People are fighting these battles you don’t even know about. There’s no room to complain about a fitness test. You’ve got an injury? That sucks. You’ve got to go into AT? That’s fine. Do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to limp around the field?

Do what you’ve got to do. Keep going.

“You think you have motivation before, and then something devastating like that happens and it almost turns it on its head, because you’ve got to work harder- for her, for what she represented, for everyone that was impacted,” she said.

In her final season for Springfield, Nusbaum was determined to work harder. She had one focus.

Playing for those who can’t.

She played for Krull. The hardest worker she had ever met.

___

Even Sharpe didn’t anticipate the degree to which the loss of Krull would impact Nusbaum’s play.

Going into the season, Sharpe had told the assistants she wanted Nusbaum to be more offensive.

However, Nusbaum hadn’t felt entirely effective in the upper center midfield position, so Sharpe moved her back to the right side.

“I just wanted her to score,” said Sharpe. “In my mind, I’m thinking she should be higher to score, never realizing that [idea of] ‘well if I can’t score, I’m going to make sure that everybody else does.’”

Nusbaum earned the same number of assists in a single season as she had in her first three seasons combined.

At 23 assists, most would think she’s a center midfielder. That’s where there are the most options. But she wasn’t.

She was on the side of the field.

“To get that many from that position has to be unheard of,” Sharpe stated. “She just put a whole new twist on what it means to be a midfielder.”

Nusbaum couldn’t have done it alone.

“I’ll bring the ball up, but people have to put it in, or else my assists mean nothing,” she explained. “Throughout my four years, I had to have people put it in the net, and I’ve had teammates that can do that, so I’ve been fortunate in that way.”

For Sharpe, there was one key aspect of Nusbaum’s play that made her so effective.

“She’s just so different. The intensity makes all the difference,” explained Sharpe. “She can dribble well, she can pass well, she can shoot, but then she does it with such intensity that it’s harder and it’s faster than her opponents.”

Nusbaum gained a painful drive when she lost Katonka. And she’s been honing it for years.

That’s the difference. That’s her edge.

___

It was this passion that helped fuel Nusbaum to break the first two records of the season.

Originally, Nusbaum didn’t know if she would even play on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 against Husson.

Earlier in the week, her grandmother had died.

After missing practice that Friday to attend the wake with her family, her dad told her to go be with her team on Saturday.

Nusbaum was going to be on Stagg Field. This time, playing for her grandmother.

“I knew where I wanted to be during that time, and field hockey gets me through things. It always has, and in a way, it always will,” said Nusbaum. “I didn’t even know I was anywhere near a record. I just didn’t want to miss a game.”

After the 10-3 win, Sharpe called for someone to grab the game ball. Nusbaum knew she must have wanted to write something on it, but she didn’t know who it was for. She guessed junior Taylor Conley had broken a record.

She was wrong.

Nusbaum heard her own name announced.

“I think I just put my hands on my knees, because I was like, ‘I can’t even believe the timing of this,’” she said. “It was perfect. There’s no other way to describe it.”

___

On Friday, Oct. 5, the team dedicated its game against Smith College to “No. 5” and played for Krull. While the seniors were the only players who had played with her, the entire team knew about her legacy and wanted to honor it.

Between tears in the locker room before the game, to a moment of silence before the national anthem, emotions got the best of the players. The team was unable to defeat Smith, and lost 5-0.

“I’ve never felt more devastated than after that game,” said Nusbaum. “I can’t even imagine how the majority of our team felt, because a lot of people didn’t know her. So to come in, and play a game, and have that kind of emotion, it was a lot.”

Despite not getting the win, the team did represent something much bigger than themselves: suicide awareness.

“It should never be the answer, but for some people, that’s what it is. It’s a mental disease and people don’t get that,” she said.

___

But Nusbaum and the entire team had the opportunity to play Smith again. They could change their story against the Pioneers when it mattered most -- in the NEWMAC Tournament Semifinals, hosted on Stagg Field.

After pulling everyone together in the locker room, the Pride stepped onto the field with an entirely different mindset.

They were determined. They were prepared. They were ready.

This was it.

Yet, after two overtime periods, Smith scored and ended Springfield’s season.

Everyone was devastated, especially the senior class, yet their heads were held high. They never stopped working hard, just like Krull.

After the loss, Sharpe sent Nusbaum a text.

“You are selfless, competitive, and the hardest damn worker I know,” it read. “I always said Kristina was the ‘Hardest worker in the room’ but you now own that title.”

It was clear.

“I’m like wow - that’s the first time I’ve ever had anybody that I would say, ‘Yup, that’s how hard Kristina worked.’ That was the best example, by watching Nuzzy play.”

But, Nusbaum took it one step further.

___

After being selected to represent Springfield College in the NFHCA Division III Senior Game, instead of wearing her No. 19 jersey, Nusbaum decided to wear No. 5 for Krull.

“When she said that, I’m going ‘Oh my gosh,’” recalled Sharpe. “This is just perfectly culminating her whole career. Here she is, her chance to be recognized, the lone representative from our program, totally well deserved, and her first thought is to wear somebody else’s jersey.”

Nusbaum wanted to carry the legacy of the hardest worker she knew. She wanted to play for someone who couldn’t.

That’s the real Nuzzy behind the numbers.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you are not alone.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Springfield College Counseling Center: (413) 748-3345

For more information, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Credits:

Photo Credits: Amanda Nusbaum, Sonja Ashe and Springfield College Athletics

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