Max Field Hockey recently named Bethany Coursen the New England Field Hockey Coach of the Year. The Bellows Falls coaching success story had its roots in the youth program she created way back in 2004. Coursen’s award was for the season of 2018. But it is, in my opinion, a story of a climb to the top because of 15 years of work in the trenches to solidify success through years of skill building in hundreds of youngsters who looked ahead for years, awaiting their day of competing in the varsity program.
Coursen concocted the perfect formula of passing on the baton. Most of her future players joined the ranks somewhere between fourth grade and high school. There were a few who only came along for the high school experience; however, the majority experienced years of moving up the ladder. The uniqueness of the program included having current high school players coach the younger students. Many proved to be their cherished role model. The students then receive their first stick from the varsity coach – who they’ve known anywhere from one to five years before even reaching high school.
No one told the youth of Bellows Falls that field hockey was a dinosaur-oriented sport. While numbers in other field hockey programs were shrinking and in some cases ending due to those numbers, Terrier field hockey uniforms were being filled by a high volume of players.
Two of those players this past fall were also recognized by Max Field Hockey. Abbe Cravhino was placed on first team All New England and Madison Streeter earned a spot on second team All New England.
Everything starts and ends with the team. Max Field Hockey ranked the Terriers Vermont State Championship Division I field hockey team, seventh in all of New England – a lofty rating.
Again, this recognition is for the group of players who garnered the highest spot in Bellows Falls field hockey history, but the collective performance from 2012 through 2018 all has been part of a period of time unmatched by any other program in the school’s history. Perhaps even not achieved by any program in Vermont sports history – except for maybe Mount Anthony wrestling.
Beginning with the 2012 season, the Terriers have accumulated 88 victories, have been defeated only five times, and have participated in three ties. 88-5-3 is obviously one hefty standard.
Bellows Falls became one of the elite with a 11-2 mark in that 2012 season, but that group’s post season wasn’t what they wanted it to be. They fell as the number two seed at home in the quarterfinals 1-0 to North Country. The Purple and White swallowed hard and haven’t been denied reaching the state’s Final Four in the sport since then. One important item to note is that Coursen’s initial starting group as fourth graders were juniors when the 2012 season came along. Every class since then has equaled or upped the standard and kept the tradition going.
This isn’t the first time Bellows Falls field hockey has found success, but it is clearly the longest string of winning seasons and obviously a six-year stretch of heralded accomplishments, including four straight Vermont state titles. The crowning gem was the Division I title last fall. The athletes on the most recent team knew they had a remarkable group and very high skills, but most really wondered if competing at the Division I level was actually biting off more than they could chew.
Even the captains questioned how their skills matched up heading into their final two contests. However, everyone knows when the dust settled Bellows Falls was the undisputed Division I champion. Clearly the best darn team in the Green Mountain State. Those skills proved good enough.
Bellows Falls and Springfield are the only field hockey schools in this coverage area. Bellows Falls actually began playing field hockey as a club sport back in 1975 when Peg Schultz and Bette Wunderle began a club team. The Terriers have reached four title games prior to their current streak. Coach Jayne Barber’s teams won two titles. They were co-champions with Hartford in 1989 in an overtime thriller. Two years later, Barber brought her charges back and finished the trick with a 1-0 triumph over Woodstock. Barber had a magical four-year stretch when her teams went 29-12-14. Rule changes have been instrumental in erasing most of those ties from today’s game.
Christine Farino was at the helm for the next title appearance in 1997 in a tough loss to Hartford. Coursen had a team that made a single trip to the finals in 2006 and started a string of tough defeats to Stowe, which were put to rest with the first title of the current four-peat streak in the fall of 2015, a 2-0 shutout of that nemesis. Stowe also eliminated the Terriers in 2013 (2-1 in the finals) and 2014 (1-0 in overtime in the semis).
Coursen played field hockey back in her days as Bethany Yates. She graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School in 1988. She became junior varsity coach under Farino when Barber left the position and Farino became the head coach. Coursen grew herself by going to clinics, learning online, and coaching summer all-star teams. She made her biggest step during her fourth year as varsity coach, when she created the youth program. Now looking back from being tabbed New England Coach of the Year, it all flashes back right before her eyes.
“This award is really for what the kids have done. They are the ones who have worked hard and played well and allowed us to achieve the things we have. I want to thank them and everyone else who has helped us in anyway over the years to become what we are today,” Coursen remarked about the award.
The beat will go on in seven months when field hockey practices start anew. The Terriers will again compete in the southern Vermont “A” play with the south’s big schools for the base of their regular season schedule.
Last season, the school competed in the Division I state tournament. Those classifications have not been finalized by the Vermont Principals Association. Routinely due to the changing complexity of the sport, those decisions don’t come down until sometime in the spring. Rarely do teams stay in a division only one year, but this could be an exception.
Our best bet is Bellows Falls will be in the Division II competition, but only time will tell.