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Dec. 28, 2021 — United States Coach of the Year: Ruth Beaton, West Newbury Pentucket (Mass.)

Ruth Beaton has two main mantras, for both coaching and for life: “Control the controllables,” and “Adjust, and do your job.”

Over the last two years of her head coaching career at West Newbury Pentucket (Mass.), she has been beset by more uncontrollables than most in her station. For most of the last two decades, her team has rented a turf field in a neighboring town, funded by the sale of cookie dough. But that arrangement ended when the recreational facility was sold and the turf turned into a construction site. Add to that the fact that a new Pentucket High School is set to open in 2022, and that the school mascot is undergoing a change.

Despite all of these distractions, the 2021 Pentucket field hockey team, with just 12 players on the varsity roster, won its first league title, had a 19-2-1 record, and fell just one goal short of making the state championship final. For her efforts, Beaton is the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Year for 2021.

Ruth Beaton took over the Pentucket program at an historical nadir. The field hockey program had undergone a number of lean seasons when Beaton applied to take on the job for the 1994 season. A local athletic director named Doug Wood had heard about this and contacted her.

“Ruth,” Wood said, “it will take you maybe seven years to make a difference.”

“Why?” Beaton asked.

“In seven years, that first class coming into middle school will be seniors, and the whole program will be yours,” Wood replied.

The first years for Beaton and Pentucket were as difficult as the years before she took the job. The team won only one game in her first four seasons on the job. At the time, the game of field hockey was making a number of radical changes. During that time period, the liberalization of the obstruction rule, free substitution, and the elimination of offside were written into the Rules of Hockey.

“While all of that was happening to the game,” Beaton said, “our objective was to just score a goal.”

Those lean years tilted her career won-loss record. Heading in the 2021 fall season, her record was 167-235-89. Beaton has stuck with coaching field hockey, even during times when it may have been extremely frustrating.

“I am a competitor and I am not a quitter,” Beaton says. “Sports is in my blood, and in my family, and competition is in my blood.”

Beaton’s father is legendary scholastic football coach Pat Flaherty, who coached for a quarter-century at Milton (Mass.) Academy. And, as it turns out, her sister is Darien (Conn.) coach Mo Minicus, who has won more than 400 games and eight Connecticut state titles. Minicus was also a nominee for United States Coach of the Year in 2010.

“I wanted to coach at the high school I went to, and try to make a difference,” Beaton says. “Once we became more competitive, then my neighbors, my friends’ kids, and my daughters would be playing on the team.”

A few years ago, there were more changes around Pentucket. First off, Cape Ann League powerhouse Boxford Masconomet (Mass.) moved to the Northeastern Conference. In addition, plans were announced to redo the postseason for the commonwealth’s public schools. Instead of having sectional brackets leading into two championships, the field hockey tournament would have statewide brackets leading into four championships.

But Beaton wasn’t thinking that far ahead. The global Coronavirus pandemic turned the 2020 season inside out. The Pentucket varsity played its fall 2020 season under the interim rules of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, playing 7-on-7 for the entire game with no penalty corners and masks required at all times. The team finished with a 5-5 record, but had no postseason to gauge how good they were out of the area.

“If you had asked me last year whether we’d have this kind of success,” Beaton says, “I’d have never seen this coming.”

This, especially, after the team learned that it would no longer have access to its home ground, an artificial grass field at the nearby Amesbury Sports Park. Because of the sale of that business, the team would be playing their 2021 home games at an elementary school, on a grass surface.

The Pentucket coaching staff adjusted, and controlled what they could control. They became expert field groomers, taking clumps of dead grass from the pitch, and adding speed-drying compound to the lawn whenever water would pond on the competition surface.

“This field was underwater at times, and I wondered whether we’d ever get to play another game sometimes after a rainstorm,” Beaton said.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the fifth game of the 2021 season when the team got that little bit of ambition which sent it hurtling towards potential greatness. The moment occurred during the team talk after the fifth game of the season, a 1-0 win over Georgetown (Mass.).

With the team huddled, Ruth Beaton’s daughter Shannon, the team’s volunteer assistant, piped up with a question.

“What are our goals?” she said. It was a pointed question.

“These girls have always striven to be the best,” Ruth Beaton said. “But they didn’t realize what they were capable of. We weren’t playing to our potential in that game, and we still won 1-0. Since then, we started building up steam.”

The following contest was a 4-3 win over Lawrence Central Catholic (Mass.), then the team kept on winning. Indeed, for the next six weeks, the Green-and-White gave up just two goals. A lot of this came from a strong midfield, led by leading scorer Lana Michelsen (18 goals), leading assister Haley Dwight (15 assists), and senior Meg Freiermuth, whose older brother Pat plays football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As the season evolved, the team got noticed.

“When we got the third seed for the state tournament, I was giddy,” Beaton said. “And when we were ranked by the Boston Globe? That had never happened before.”

The team spun three straight clean sheets in the MIAA Division 3 Tournament, including a statement 4-0 win over Foxborough (Mass.). But that led to a showdown with Watertown, a long-time powerhouse and 18-time state champion that had given up a single goal all season.

In the contest, Watertown scored in the first four minutes, but the goalkeeping of senior Charlene Basque kept the Raiders off the scoreboard.

“We held them off for the rest of the game, and we only had 12 players on the roster,” Beaton says. “And six of our 11 starters did not play varsity last year.”

While Watertown would win the game and ultimately, the 2021 state championship, the achievements of the Pentucket field hockey team will live long in the memory for this group of players.

“I have coached an incredibly humble group of girls,” Beaton says. “Their confidence grew, and our postseason play was great. They hit their stride when it mattered most. This was for all the girls, and young men, who have played Pentucket field hockey over the years and fought, in spite of the won-loss record.”


Beaton joins a list of coaches in the past who have received the award from this site:

2021: Ruth Beaton, West Newbury Pentucket (Mass.)
2020-21: Carrie Holman, Vienna James Madison (Va.)
2019: Ali Good, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.)
2018: Bri Price, Hershey (Pa.)
2017: Mary Werkheiser, Norfolk (Va.) Academy
2016: Jessica Rose Shellenberger, Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.)
2015: Danyle Heilig, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
2014: Eileen Donahue, Watertown (Mass.)
2013: Jim Larkin, Fredericksburg Chancellor (Va.)
2012: Ashly Fishell-Shaffer, Edgemere Sparrows Point (Md.)
2011: Lil Shelton, Severna Park (Md.)
2010: Sarah Catlin, Cincinnati St. Ursula (Ohio)
2009: Danyle Heilig, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)
2008: Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, Pewaukee Trinity Academy (Wisc.)
2007: Wendy Reichenbach, Palmyra (Pa.)
2006: Barb Dwyer, Ladue Horton Watkins (Mo.)
2005: Robin Woodie, Fredericksburg Stafford (Va.)
2004: Monica Dennis, Grosse Pointe South (Mich.)
2003: Kearney Francis, Silver Spring Springbrook (Md.)
2002: Slade Gormus, Midlothian James River (Va.)
2001: Amanda Janney, Ft. Worth Trinity Valley (Tex.)
2000: Eileen Allan, Pompton Lakes (N.J.)
1999: Amy Wood, Bethesda-Chevy Chase (Md.)
1998: Diane Chapman, Garden City (N.J.) and Brenda Beckwith, Winslow (Maine)
1997: Maryellen Clemencich, Allentown (N.J.)
1996: Tracey Paul, Escondido San Pasqual (Calif.)
1995: Nancy Fowlkes, Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox)
1994: Mike Shern, Lacey (N.J.) Township
1993: Pat Toner, Newtown Council Rock (Pa.)

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