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Jaywalking: Becker Hall awaits Frontier coach, Mahar

  • Frontier field hockey coach Missy Mahar is shown during her Red Hawk playing days. contributed photo

  • Missy Mahar and Becker College coach Ginger Daly pose for a shot near the field hockey field. contributed photo


Monday, September 04, 2017

For the past decade and a half, Frontier Regional School field hockey coach Missy Mahar has been one of the most celebrated field hockey coaches in western Massachusetts, leading the Red Hawks to six WMass titles.

But that’s not what she will be honored for on Sept. 29. On that day, Mahar (then Missy Phillips) will be honored for her playing days at Becker College, where she’ll be inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place at the Campus Center in Leicester.

Prior to coaching one of the best field hockey programs in western Mass., Mahar was playing for some of the top programs. The South Deerfield native actually graduated from Frontier in 1996, helping the Red Hawks to a pair of Northern Division titles in her four years as a starter. This came during a time when four-year varsity players were the exception, not the norm, which didn’t stop legendary coach Vi Goodnow from using Mahar for her freshman and sophomore seasons.

After graduating, Mahar moved on to Becker, which was a Junior College powerhouse, having won three straight national titles from 1992 through 1994. Mahar said she chose Becker over other colleges because it had a nursing program and it was not too far from home.

Mahar started her freshman year for Becker and was instrumental in helping the Hawks win the 1996 national title, giving former Becker coach Ginger Daly her fourth title.

“She’s one of the best players I’ve had in my 13 years here,” Daly said of Mahar at the time. “Our team focuses our play around her.”

Mahar was named the Defensive Player of the Game during the 1-0 win over Harford (Md.) Community College in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship game in 1996. She also won Defensive Player of the Week honors twice that season.

“It was exciting,” Mahar said of winning a national title. “Every season you have goals for whatever team you are on, and one of those is to make the postseason. When we made it, we did really well. And to have your family and friends who support you around, it was a wonderful experience and something I will never forget.”

Mahar played two more years at Becker. She was named an NJCAA All-American in 1996 and 1997, and was the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1998. In 1997, Mahar led the NJCAA with 18 assists, becoming the third player in Becker’s history to reach 18 assists in a season. She also had seven goals that season, and her 32 points (goals are worth two) put her third in the nation. Becker finished as national runner-up in 1997.

“I really credit my success at Becker to my coach, Ginger Daly, who I still speak with,” Mahar said. “She is one of the coaches who I have tried to base my coaching off of; my coaching philosophy. She made me believe that I could do anything, and she made you want to work hard for her and the team. I really credit those years to where I’ve come as a coach and my philosophy as a coach.”

Mahar also played basketball at Becker during the 1997-98 season. During that year, she set the school record for 3-pointers made in a season with 55 and was named the team MVP. She scored 505 points in 23 games to average 22 points per game and was seventh nationally in scoring.

She decided to only play the one season because playing two sports was too much of a commitment.

After three seasons at Becker, Mahar moved on to Springfield College, where she played one season of field hockey, helping the Pride to a 21-win season in 1999. She also helped Springfield make an NCAA Division III run to the tournament semifinals, eventually getting eliminated by national champion College of New Jersey, 3-2.

By then, she had changed her major from nursing to physical education, and soon after graduating, Mahar got a job at Frontier. She began teaching in 2002, and that same season was also the first of the post-Goodnow era, a great opportunity for Mahar to take over for her former coach.

“I loved the game of field hockey and knew I wanted to be involved in it some way,” Mahar said. “I missed it after my college career ended. The only way I knew how to be in the game was through coaching, and everything kind of fell into place that season.”

She returned to Becker last fall for the first time in a while when she went to watch a pair of former Frontier players, Mindy Esposito and Izzy Contois, oppose her former team playing for La Salle.

A few months later, Mahar received a letter in the mail informing her that she had been nominated for induction.

“I opened the letter and I was really shocked,” she said. “I feel very humbled to have this opportunity and to be honored. I’m excited.”

Mahar enters the Becker College Hall of Fame with three other individuals, as well as the 1993 Becker field hockey team.

So now, Hall of Fame playing days are quickly transitioning into a Hall of Fame coaching career. Mahar has left her mark on field hockey.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.