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Jeanette Budzik passes torch to Nina Emala at Bryn Mawr, but doesn't go far

Nina Emala's eyes glossed and her voiced trembled when she described how it felt to be chosen as the new coach of Bryn Mawr's field hockey team this season.

The 27-year-old from Baltimore used to play for the Mawrtians, and thinking about the way she became coach this season almost brought her to tears. Former Bryn Mawr coach Jeanette Budzik ended her 29-year tenure at the position to allow Emala, who had been her assistant, to take over.

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Now the person Emala considers her role model is part of her staff.

"It's a dream come true, and I don't mean to sound corny," Emala said after a practice in October. "To move to the stage of working together as adults is just really cool."

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Bryn Mawr's season ended after their 2-0 loss at No. 2 Garrison Forest in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference semifinals on Oct. 29. After one season in their new coaching roles, Emala and Budzik are in a new stage of their relationship.

After years of guidance, Budzik is confident that Emala has what it takes to lead the team.

"I think her enthusiasm and her excitement spoke to how she did [this season]," Budzik said this month. "She was very passionate about it. This is something that she wanted to do and that came through throughout the season … and she did a great job."

Since graduating from Gettysburg College in 2010, where she played field hockey and lacrosse, returning to Bryn Mawr was always in the back of Emala's mind. In 2013, she was hired as a second-grade teacher at the school and became an assistant coach for the field hockey team.

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After only a year as the Mawrtians' assistant, Emala landed her dream job as the team's head coach.

Much of this season was a learning experience, or, as Emala put it, "ripping off the Band-Aid." She had to get accustomed to leading practice drills and making critical decisions during games. The team finished with seven wins, six losses and three ties.

"It was a transition for everybody," Emala said. "But I think the girls really came together as a team."

For Budzik, transitioning to a supporting role also was challenging. Though she wanted to give Emala full control of the team, there were moments during games when she regained authority, telling Emala when to make substitutions or change the team's formation. Emala welcomed that input.

"I feel like I sort of had a tutor constantly next to me," Emala said.

Budzik is working to stop that habit, she said, but after nearly three decades as Bryn Mawr's head coach, she is used to taking the initiative. But she knows Emala needs time to get comfortable in her new role, and interjecting too much can add pressure.

"I'm aware of the pressure she's feeling, too," Budzik said. "That's why it's important that I step back a little bit. But I can't step back too much because I love it.

"It is a process. The good news is that we have known each other and can work through anything [at] anytime."

For the players, this year didn't feel very different from past seasons. Budzik was still involved, and many of the drills in practice remained the same.

Emala made some changes, senior midfielder Alex Argo said during the season, such as introducing new plays and a new team cheer, but she still noticed Budzik's influence.

"It's a little bit of new and old," said Argo, a team captain who had Budzik as a coach for three years. "So I think it's a really good mix, and I think it's a good change."

As the dean of students, Budzik is still very present at Bryn Mawr during school hours, senior midfielder Julie Blaze said. Blaze, who is also a captain, knows how much time Budzik has devoted to the school and its field hockey program, and she respected her decision to allow Emala to pursue her coaching aspirations.

"I look up to [Coach Budzik] in a way because that's a big thing to do," Blaze said. "I'm sure if she could, she would definitely be head coach for her whole life. But she can't always do everything."

Though it took time to adjust, Budzik knew she was responsible for giving the next generation a chance to lead the program. And Emala, she said, was the perfect fit.

"I just felt like it was the right time," Budzik said. "And it made it even more the right time when I knew that she was going to be working here."

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