‘Coach Mac’ Earns 200th Win As She Starts Her 20th Year Coaching Belmont High Field Hockey

Photo: Belmont High School Field Hockey Coach Jess Smith after winning her 200th win as she starts her 20th season.

Jess Smith never really thought about the number of wins she’s accumilated as she’s entered her 20th campaign helming the Belmont High School Field Hockey team.

“I probably think more about the losses,” said Smith, affectionally known as “Coach Mac” by her players and the hundred of alums who played on Harris Field.

“Coach Mac”

Over those two decades, Smith has only twice missed the MIAA tournament, reaching the Division 2 North championship game also twice. During those years, she has helped send more players off to Division 1 programs and college squads than any other team in Belmont High.

Curiosity around the athletic department on just how many victories Smith had pocketed in her 19 years started last year. After going to the MIAA website and through microfilm in the Belmont Public Library, the number of victories in the regular season and playoffs tallied 199.

Smith’s first chance at hitting 200 wins would be the season opener at Stoneham on Wednesday, Sept. 6. But last week’s heat wave forced a postponement with the Spartans, and the first game of the year would be the home opener on Friday, Sept. 8 vs. Melrose.

On Friday, Belmont got off to a quick start, scoring four times in the first quarter, led by sophomore midfielder MacKenzie Clarke, who bagged the first of her hattrick after three minutes.

Belmont High Sophomore Midfielder MacKenzie Clarke

“It’s a great way to start the season, especially knowing how tough the league always is,” said Clarke, who had a six-point afternoon with three assists. Senior co-captain Carly Gaziano had a brace, while senior Gretchen Hanley and junior Brynn Connolly each tallied.

But it was when the on-field horn marked the end of a 7-0 victory that the team surprised Smith with the news she entered the circle of coaches with a double century of victories.

“I had no idea [it was the 200th]. I really haven’t thought of it,” said Smith after the game. “When the kids told me it was the 200th, I told them I didn’t score one of the goals that got us the 200 wins. But it has been awesome being on the sidelines for the 200 wins, I’ll tell you that.”

Just 15 hours after the first game, Belmont was in Stoneham for the rare Middlesex League game on grass. And for nearly the first half, the ground-up turf was winning as the Marauders were finding the grass and the heat and humidity a bit taxing.

But Belmont finally broke through twice in the final four minutes, first from Connolly with the second coming from senior captain Lola Rocci on a penalty corner with no time left on the clock to go up 2-0 at the break. A goal early in the second half, followed by two in the fourth quarter, ended with Smith’s 201st victory, a 5-0 shutout.

Belmont High Senior Forward Lola Rocci

Rocci joined Clark with a hat trick on Saturday, while senior goaltender Julia Herlihy starts the season with a pair of clean sheets.

Belmont now heads into the cauldron of its season with three away games, starting with powerhouse Watertown on Monday, Sept. 11, followed by Winchester on Wednesday, and finally away to Westford Academy before coming home to meet Reading on Wednesday, Sept. 20.

Field Hockey’s Coach Smith Name to Alma Mater’s Hall of Fame

When asked to describe her field hockey coach, Belmont High School senior co-captain Suzanne Noone said that Jessica Smith “is one of the most important adults I’ve had in my life.”

“She taught me so much, yelling at me to keep my stick down,” laughed Noone, who was recently named a Middlesex League All-Star and will likely play college field hockey next fall.

“Jess is a big reason I’ve been successful on and off the field.”

Smith, at the helm of the successful field hockey program for the past 11 season, has earned almost universal praise from players and parents as a mentor and supporter to the students who take up the crooked stick as their athletic pursuit. Many times with her three, small children in tow, Smith is on the sidelines at games or practice yelling encouragement to her charges.

So it wouldn’t be surprising to discover that Smith learned about leading a team when she was an accomplished young high school athlete two decades ago.

That past athletic prowess was recognized Saturday, Nov. 8 as Smith and 15 others were inducted as the first-ever class into the Joel Barlow High School Athletic Hall of Fame in Redding, Connecticut. (Smith was not the only Massachusetts field hockey coach honored as she entered with Salem High School’s Wizzie Crocker Phelps.)

“She was an incredible teammate, a remarkable athlete, as well as an outstanding academic student,” read the announcement of the honor.

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A member of the class of 1994 (and then known as Jess MacLellan), Smith played field hockey for the Falcons throughout high school, was a captain her senior year and was named the team’s MVP as a junior and senior. She was on the All-Western Connecticut Conference (WCC) team from 1992 – 1994, and was 1st team All- State in 1993 and 1994. She led the Falcons to the WCC tournament championships in 1993.

Smith was also a standout in tennis. During her four years at Barlow, the Falcons won the Class S State tournament in which she played first singles her final three years. She was a team captain and competed in the quarterfinals of the state individual tournament as a senior.

At Tufts University in Medford, Smith continued to play field hockey and pursued lacrosse where she became a captain of both sports and MVP during her senior year. In field hockey, she was All-American, First-Team All-New England, and All-NESCAC. In lacrosse, she was All-New England and All-NESCAC. In 1998, she won the Hester L. Sargent Award as Tufts’ outstanding female athlete.

Always the athlete, Smith has ran the New York City marathon in 3 hours, 20 minutes and the BAA marathon in 3:25.

Smith was hired as an occupational therapist by the Belmont School District in 2002 and currently covers the Winn Brook, Butler, High School and Wellington pre-school. She lives in Charlestown with her husband and their three rambunctious children.

At the induction ceremony, Smith said she often thinks of Karissa Niehoff, her field hockey coach, who made practice fun and instilled the values of hard work and fitness.