WATERTOWN — There are 370 girls enrolled at Watertown High School, about a quarter of whom are seniors. Of those 90 or so seniors, there’s just one on the state-record-holding field hockey team.
“If they don’t want to run,” coach Eileen Donahue explained, “if they don’t want to work hard . . . ”
Then they don’t get the privilege.
It’s become just that, a privilege, and it could be even mightier when Donahue finally closes the book on what can be considered one of the most impressive high school coaching reigns in the country.
Watertown High girls’ winning streak 96 games over 1,653 days
As of Wednesday, she had coached 619 games during her 28 years at Watertown High. The Raiders, 7-0 this fall after a 2-0 win over Lincoln-Sudbury Regional on Wednesday, have been beaten just 30 times during her tenure.
They haven’t lost in 1,653 days, going 96-0-3 in that span. Freshmen who walked into the high school in 2009 and graduated this spring did not lose a game.
Within the next two weeks, the Raiders could pick up their 100th victory during the streak. They already broke the Massachusetts record for most consecutive undefeated games by a field hockey squad when they beat Arlington, 2-0, on Sept. 10, passing the mark established by Walpole High in the mid-1990s. Only two other programs nationwide, one in Oklahoma and one in New Jersey, have done better.
And they put themselves in a special conversation, joining the St. Mary’s of Lynn girls’ ice hockey team, which went 100 games without a loss before falling to Hingham in 2011.
The St. Mary’s hockey coach, Frank Pagliuca , has been to a few Watertown games this year. His sister, Lisa Pagliuca , happens to coach the Raiders’ junior varsity squad.
“I’m very aware of Watertown’s success,” Pagliuca said. “It’s been great to follow them.”
From the inside, though, it’s been challenging. Donahue thought she was in trouble early last fall, when she couldn’t get all of her girls playing in synch.
“As much as you want something to happen, they have to feel it and want it,” Donahue said.
At the end of the season, the Raiders rolled through the state tournament, outscoring opponents 14-2 on their way to a fourth straight Division 2 title.
The hardest part for the Raiders is continuing to hold themselves to imaginary, unreachable standards. The traditional standards of excellence — to compete against the best teams, to win every game — aren’t enough of a stretch.
Because even on a bad day, Watertown can still compete.
When the Raiders beat Arlington to set the new state record, Donahue was disappointed by her squad’s performance.
“In that game we did not play well,” she said. “It was a bittersweet win, but I’ll take the win.”
The standards at Watertown are deeper, and they’re hard to define.
“We have to work so hard where we’re at because we know we’re not where we should be at,” she said.
If it sounds confusing, that’s because it can be. The coach’s job in these moments is to simplify success. And that’s why Watertown is in the same conversation as St. Mary’s. The dynasties, they all have similarities.
“There is always room for improvement,” Pagliuca said. “Eileen is a tremendous coach who has been successful for many years. She looks at it in similar fashion as I looked at where you’re always trying to improve.
“Those are program standards, setting those high standards. You reflect the mood of the team. You want to be satisfied, you want to show them they’re achieving success, but also to keep them grounded and focused on the overall goal.”
Watertown captains Allie Doggett and Emily Loprete identify four requirements to play on the team: positioning, leadership, hustle, and conditioning.
Positioning: Know where to be, at all times, “or you won’t be on the field,” Doggett said.
Leadership: “From everyone, not just us,” Loprete said.
Hustle: See conditioning.
Conditioning: “A lot” is how Loprete defines the amount necessary.
“We beat other teams because we have endurance, because we’re willing to do that, to get that 50-50 ball,” said Doggett, who is committed to Boston University. “That’s how we win.”
The one constant with every Watertown team can be seen on the faces of their opponent at the end of a game, and in their legs moving in slow motion while the Raiders are still swarming the ball with three, four defenders at a time.
“That’s the ultimate feeling, to see that,” Donahue said. “I want to outlast the other team. I want other teams to be tired. I don’t want us to be tired.”
It’s what allows the Raiders to get creative, and they often need to.
When someone attempts a quick move to accelerate past a defender and toward the goal, they’re almost always protected by a few teammates behind them, like a flock of geese flying in a V-shape.
“We’re not a safe team,” Doggett said. “We take risks. You have to know where to be at all times. There has to be triangles around the ball.”
It’s been working. The last time Watertown lost in field hockey was Nov. 12, 2008.
The Raiders were ahead of Hopkinton, 2-0, before the Hillers stormed back to win, 3-2, in the Division 2 state semifinals.
“We lost one game that whole year,” Donahue said. “It just happened to be in that state semifinal game.
“It’s all on me because I’m responsible and we all took ownership on that. And to most of those girls’ credit, they went to the state final game to see what could have, should have been. And then the next two years, several of those girls won two state championships.
“They learned from their failure, what it felt like and to not want that to happen again,’’ Donahue said.
“To see other deserving teams be in that situation — wow.”
But as things stand now, she said, the Raiders aren’t good enough to win their fifth straight Division 2 title.
There’s too much to be done, and not enough time to do it.
It’s the same way Donahue has felt many times before.
Ninety-nine undefeated games later, and she still feels the same way.