The seeds of the primary state area hockey championship at Longmeadow (Mass.) had been sown again in 2019, in regards to the time when Ann Simons, head area hockey coach on the faculty since 1981, was considering aloud about retirement.
“It’s a must to set a quantity someplace, in any other case you retain going and going,” she stated to an interviewer on the time. “I’ve 13 juniors on varsity. I’ve determined that’s my final class I’ll be with.”
That was the plan, however the international pandemic intervened. That, and the efficiency of that senior class throughout a six-game fall season underneath the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Affiliation’s modified pandemic guidelines. They which featured 7-on-7 video games with no penalty corners; any defensive foul within the circle wanting a strokeable offense was a 23-meter free-in.
“That,” she stated about her 6-0 staff in 2020, “might need been the strongest staff I ever had.”
Retirement discuss was off. Realizing that her 2023 senior class might need had the moxie to make a run to a state championship, Simons continued to chase the white whale. Within the fall of 2022, the Lancers received their first state championship in program historical past.
The truth that Longmeadow received the title, writing a storybook end for the veteran coach, makes Simons the apparent alternative for the TopOfTheCircle.com United States Coach of the Yr.
Longmeadow, Mass. is a city of about 15,000 on the east financial institution of the Connecticut River, and sits proper alongside the southern border of Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Longmeadow can be thought of a Western Massachusetts staff within the eyes of the MIAA. For many years, groups within the counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden had been ignored within the dialog about the most effective groups within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. When statewide event competitors started in 1984, there was no postseason competitors for smaller Division 2 faculties in Western Massachusetts. Certainly, there weren’t any Western Massachusetts groups in within the Division 2 event till 1996.
There have been occasional breakthroughs. In 1999, Greenfield (Mass.), a staff led by future Olympian Kelly Doton, received the MIAA Divsiion 2 title. A 12 months later, a Hadley Smith Academy (Mass.) staff led by U.S. nationwide teamer Kelly Dostal and coached by the legendary Sherry Webb, did the identical.
However after that, the divide between Western Massachusetts and the remainder of the state turned extra pronounced. Longmeadow, regardless of successful 15 Division 2 West brackets since 2002 (together with 9 straight between 2011 and 2019), couldn’t win a state title.
Regardless of setback after setback, Simons stored on teaching, seeking to see what she might do in a different way to enhance the staff.
“I simply liked what I used to be doing,” Simons stated. “I loved watching the children progress, and, down the street, I knew we had one thing right here, so I made a decision to keep it up and do the most effective that I might do. I simply needed to do the most effective I might for ladies’ sports activities.”
After the 2020-21 COVID-19 fall and spring area hockey seasons in Massachusetts public faculties, your entire construction of state competitors modified. No extra had been there to be 4 regional champions in two enrollment classifications. As a substitute, there have been 4 MIAA state titles to be received in 4 statewide brackets of upwards of 32 groups in every.
“We’ve performed nicely in Division 1, however we’re a small faculty,” Simons stated. “It was troublesome to compete with the likes of Andover and Acton-Boxborough, although we had them on our schedule. I like what they did, going to 4 divisions.”
After Longmeadow fell out of the 2021 Division 2 event to Masconomet (Mass.), it was time to prepare for the 2022 season, one which she decided can be her final.
“You may inform that we had been going to be a superb staff,” Simons stated. “I simply needed to select sufficient freshmen on the 2020 staff in order that they’d enhance as soon as they obtained on varsity. I knew we had some expertise.”
The Longmeadow Lancers performed excellent area hockey to begin the season, beating a superb Walpole (Mass.) aspect in late September, solely to drop a 1-0 choice to Andover (Mass.) in early October. As well as, Longmeadow had scheduled video games in opposition to Connecticut groups, one thing few Massachusetts groups do.
“Typically we might get shortchanged due to energy factors,” Simons says. “We’re not afraid to go on the market and play different competitors, to indicate our youngsters the place they have to be.”
The third week of October featured a problem remarkable in American area hockey circles: 5 video games in 5 days. It began with a 4-0 win over West Springfield (Mass.) on Oct. 14th. The subsequent day, the staff crossed the close by border with Connecticut to play Glastonbury, a 1-0 loss. The day after that got here in opposition to multi-time state champion Acton-Boxborough (Mass.), a 1-0 win. The day after that was native rival South Hadley (Mass.), an 8-0 win, and completed with a 4-1 win over Agawam (Mass.) on Oct. 18th.
“That was robust for us, however we didn’t play nicely at Glastonbury, nevertheless it appeared as if neither staff needed to win that sport,” Simons stated. “I stated to myself, ‘This can not occur,’ as a result of we would have liked to begin taking part in higher. We held 1-on-1 talks on the bus on the best way to Acton-Boxborough — not simply with the starters, however with the bench gamers. I might like to play all people, however when it comes right down to the nitty gritty, you’re solely going to play your prime 13 or 14. A few of our gamers had been getting antsy by way of not taking part in. However I attempted to reassure everybody that they had been going to get each alternative, that you simply get higher once you play higher folks, so at observe you should stand out.”
The considering inside the Lancer staff was that in comparison with this five-day block of video games, a state event ought to be simple.
“Ever since that sport, we clicked extra and the staff actually got here collectively,” Simons stated. “They’re such good children and so they needed to do it for me.”
The senior class was led by ahead Riley Harrington, who had 14 targets and 20 assists on the season. For a staff that scored 70 targets as a staff, the variety of assists for the long run Quinnipiac student-athlete is an astounding determine.
“Everybody on our staff has some sort of price, and it’s important to make them really feel like they’re needed,” Simons stated. “I might say that we have now good communication on our staff, and we have now a variety of unselfish children.”
However it may also be troublesome to be making an attempt to push that rock up the hill time after time with out successful a state title.
That’s, till that Nov. nineteenth day when Longmeadow beat Bolton Nashoba (Mass.) for the state Division 2 championship, an unforgettable day for the staff and its veteran coach. On the day, Longmeadow was capable of get targets from Gracie Reisner and Harrington about 4 minutes aside to show an early deficit right into a 2-1 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
“Many coaches hope to get to a ultimate, and we had been in it,” Simons stated. “Everybody had a superb feeling about it. They stated, ‘That is it. We’re going to do it.’ ”
The staff, the teaching workers, and Longmeadow supporters from 4 many years had been handled to a thrill journey for that final stanza earlier than the clock hit zero. Then, a wave of exultation enveloped the turf at Westboro (Mass.) because the staff celebrated.
“It’s a implausible technique to cap a profession. That is one for the ages, it’s epic,” Simons instructed the media gathered on the sport. “We peaked at simply the fitting time, it’s been an fascinating 12 months, we’ve had our ups and downs.”
What has stored Simons teaching all these years? An enormous a part of her teaching philosophy is discovered on the crest of her alma mater, Springfield School. On the seal is a triangle with the phrases “SPIRIT MIND BODY” on it.
“Some issues by no means change, I imply, that’s the Triangle,” Simons says. “I believe I attempt to reside by that mannequin additionally. However it’s extra psychological now. Of their heads, they should determine it out; they’ve to come back ready. They should need it and push for it. Typically they simply get a little bit lazy.”
However Simons has developed a thirst for info and for enchancment in her latter years as coach.
“Thank God I’m retired now, as a result of I used to spend 5 hours a day wanting up video of our opponents to see what we would have liked to do,” she stated. “The onerous work paid off, clearly.”
Simons joins an inventory of coaches previously who’ve acquired the award from this web site:
2022: Ann Simons, Longmeadow (Mass.)
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 Value, Hershey (Pa.)
2017: Mary Werkheiser, Norfolk (Va.) Academy
2016: Jessica Rose Shellenberger, Mount Pleasure Donegal (Pa.)
2015: Danyle Heilig, Voorhees Jap (N.J.)
2014: Eileen Donahue, Watertown (Mass.)
2013: Jim Larkin, Fredericksburg Chancellor (Va.)
2012: Ashly Fishell-Shaffer, Edgemere Sparrows Level (Md.)
2011: Lil Shelton, Severna Park (Md.)
2010: Sarah Catlin, Cincinnati St. Ursula (Ohio)
2009: Danyle Heilig, Voorhees Jap (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. Price Trinity Valley (Tex.)
2000: Eileen Allan, Pompton Lakes (N.J.)
1999: Amy Wooden, Bethesda-Chevy Chase (Md.)
1998: Diane Chapman, Backyard Metropolis (N.J.) and Brenda Beckwith, Winslow (Maine)
1997: Maryellen Clemencich, Allentown (N.J.)
1996: Tracey Paul, Escondido San Pasqual (Calif.)
1995: Nancy Fowlkes, Virginia Seaside Frank W. Cox)
1994: Mike Shern, Lacey (N.J.) Township
1993: Pat Toner, Newtown Council Rock (Pa.)