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Globe West Sports

Watertown field hockey aims to make ‘Miss Donahue’ proud

Coach builds winning legacy

In her 25th season as Watertown High’s coach, Eileen Donahue directs her players during Wednesday’s win over Wakefield. In her 25th season as Watertown High’s coach, Eileen Donahue directs her players during Wednesday’s win over Wakefield. (Jon Mahoney for The Boston Globe)
By Phil Perry
Globe Correspondent / October 24, 2010

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Over the last quarter century, no field hockey program in the state, with the possible exception of Walpole, can match the success of Watertown High. And this fall’s collection of Red Raiders are doing their part to continue the legacy.

The defending Division 2 state champions were unbeaten at midweek, with their 15 victories including a 5-0 shutout Wednesday of Middlesex League foe Wakefield. Opponents have not figured out how to stop junior Erika Kelly (team-high 33 points this season), and it is very rare for an opponent to get a shot past Watertown goalie Kayla Costa. The Red Raiders allowed three goals in their 15 games.

With the regular season closing Friday against Belmont, Watertown is building momentum to make a run at its 20th North sectional championship, and repeating as state champion. At the center of the success is coach Eileen Donahue, who has guided the program to a remarkable 10 state titles, starting with her inaugural season in 1986.

“She always pushes us as far as we can go,’’ said senior cocaptain Jess Doggett, lined up to play at Fairfield University next fall. “She really does get the best out of us.’’

Donahue describes herself as her team’s loudest cheerleader, but first and foremost, she is a teacher. The secret to her success? It’s simple enough: Get back to basics.

From the sideline last week, she could be heard shouting to her players, offering instruction on positioning and how to receive a ball on their stick.

“We work really hard and we do a lot on repeating simple skills. You’ve got to be able to do the simple,’’ said Donahue, who was inducted into the school’s sports Hall of Fame in 2008. “We’re focusing on the basics and then trying to build off of those.’’

Building on fundamentals, the program has achieved unprecedented success in Division 2. With every passing year that Watertown puts together a winning club, the reputation grows.

“Everyone knows the tradition,’’ said Stephanie Sideris, a 2008 Watertown graduate who is a junior standout just up the road at Bentley University. “When you know someone older who plays and you see their success with the team, that plays a role in getting you interested. I know my older cousin definitely influenced me to play,’’ she said, in a nod to Christine Sideris.

“Seeing her have fun, seeing her win, and seeing how much she loved the sport made me want to stick with it.’’

The interest in the program among families in town has only aided in the extended run of success. Donahue has coached cousins and countless sisters in her 25 years. The latest pair of siblings are the Carlsons, Katie, a Northeastern-bound senior, and her sister, Alyssa, a sophomore.

The Rogers sisters Jane, Bethany, Catherine, and Mary all played for Donahue. Mary starred at Bentley, leaving the program as the fourth all-time leading scorer in Division 2, and a three-time All-American. Bethany (Northeastern) and Jane (Boston University) were also collegiate All-Americans, and Catherine played for Division 1 Maryland.

Bianca Jones, a Red Raiders senior cocaptain, hopes to start a family tradition of her own: She already has plans for her 9-month-old sister.

“Once she’s able to walk,’’ said Jones, “I’m definitely going to teach her how to play.’’

As the program continued to flourish, Donahue addressed the interest at the youth level, introducing a once-a-week program for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders to provide an opportunity for younger girls that wanted to play the game.

Each beginner is provided a stick, if they don’t already have one of their own, and learn the game’s fundamentals by current Watertown players.

Not surprisingly, the youngsters are very good. This season, they’ve played against older middle school teams.

“And they’re beating them too,’’ says Doggett. “They’re doing really well.’’

Many of those girls will likely go on to play in the middle school program, which has more than 50 players, according to Watertown athletic director Michael Lahiff.

The varsity program is the beneficiary of the feeder system. The majority of Red Raiders started playing in the third grade, learning from the coach they fondly call “Miss Donahue.’’

Through decades of change to field hockey rules and equipment, she has been the one constant for Watertown over its last quarter century of success.

“She’s the rock,’’ says Lahiff. “She gives the program that stability that allows it to keep going from year to year.’’

”Their record is incredible. There’s nothing at that level. It matches up with any program in the state. Ten state championships is just ridiculous.”

Behind Donahue’s focus on the game’s fundamentals, the same fundamentals she teaches to her elementary school players, the Raiders march on, determined to make another run at a state title.

Phil Perry can be reached at paperry27@gmail.com.

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