The town of Hampton sits in the southeast part of New Hampshire and neighbors the Atlantic Ocean. It's home to Winnacunnet High School, which attracted the national spotlight in 1990 when Pamela Smart, then a media coordinator at Winnacunnet, persuaded a student to murder her husband.
Smart's trial drew heavy media coverage, and she is now serving a life sentence as an accomplice to murder. The movie "To Die For," starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon, is based on Smart's story.
These days, Winnacunnet (Hampton, N.H.)
may be better known for its girls basketball program, which will attempt to extend a 77-game winning streak when it opens the season at Manchester Central tonight. The Warriors have won New Hampshire's last five Division I titles. No New Hampshire team has ever won six in a row.
"Without question I'm surprised," Winnacunnet coach Ed Beattie said. "I'm surprised because I know how easy it is to lose. Sometimes you get to a point where you just find ways to win. The kids are on that kind of a roll right now.
"You gotta be good, you have to outwork people and you have to be lucky. The lucky part of it comes by not being injured and having key players hurt – those kinds of things. We've been fortunate for sure. You can't do it if you're not good, but you still have to outwork people and get lucky."
The streak may not end anytime soon since Winnacunnet has four returning starters from last year's team: senior point guard Kirsten O'Neil
, senior guard/forward Anna Sullivan
, senior guard Avi Morrison
and junior forward Carly Gould
. Eight of the team's 10 players have significant varsity experience.
"We have the experience, but the pressure is always going to be on," Sullivan said. "We have to take it game by game. Teams are clearly out to get you. People are rooting for us to lose at this point."Summers County (Hinton, W. Va.)
owns the longest active winning streak among girls basketball teams. Summers County stretched its winning streak to 97 games when it won its opener Tuesday night.
Winnacunnet is also chasing the state's longest winning streak. Nashua won 120 straight games – the sixth-longest all-time winning streak among girls basketball teams – from 1984 to 1989. The 1986 Nashua team was named the No. 1 team in the country by several national publications.
That Nashua team was coached by John Fagula, who is now the head coach at Londonderry. Winnacunnet beat Fagula's Londonderry team to win last year's Division I title.
In addition to its league victories, Winnacunnet built its streak by winning holiday tournaments in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida. The 2009 Winnacunnet team won the KSA Holiday Basketball Tournament, a five-day event in Orlando, Fla. Besides Winnacunnet, the tournament featured teams from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Florida.
Winnacunnet beat Kennesaw (Ga.) 84-55 in the semifinals, then won the tournament with a 69-52 triumph over Spring Ford (Pa.).
"In Division I girls basketball in this state there are generally no easy nights," Beattie said. "We've been all over the place – Maine, Florida, Massachusetts – but I think some of our toughest games have been right here in our own state.
"When we were in Florida a couple years ago people's eyes were bugging out of their head, so they kind of figured out that basketball in New Hampshire is pretty good. You don't take anybody lightly."
Tiffany Ruffin was the starting point guard on four of Winnacunnet's championship teams before she graduated in 2010. She is now a sophomore on the Boston College women's basketball team.
Abigail LaRosa, another former Winnacunnet player, is playing Division I basketball at the University of New Hampshire. Neither Ruffin nor LaRosa fits the profile of a typical Winnacunnet player. The typical girl who puts on a Winnacunnet uniform is a multi-sport athlete who doesn't go on to play college basketball.
"On two hands you can probably name the Division I athletes who have come out of Winnacunnet High School," Beattie said. "You don't get a lot of Division I athletes in a school with 1,300 kids. It's not like we're a football factory in Texas that's producing six or seven Division I athletes each year."
Winnacunnet's style is to press and run. If the Warriors are known for anything it's their annoying press. For the last five years Beattie has had an abundance of athletic, scrappy players who have made opposing offenses extremely uncomfortable.
"Pressing has a lot to do with it, but we also like to run the ball up the floor," O'Neil said. "As the point guard I would rather run than set up a play. If we have it, go. We've been trained to do that since we were young. It keeps you focused on the game because you're always moving – just constantly going at it."
Said Beattie: "If people come into our gym I don't want it to look like molasses going down a hill. I want them to get some entertainment out of it. We're gonna press and run. That's our style, that's what we do.
"We spend a significant amount of time putting pressure on the opponent and making it difficult for them to be comfortable on offense. We're not a bump and grind, bring it down the floor, set up, fool around. We're about up and down."
Many thought Winnacunnet's streak would end last season, when the Warriors had to replace eight seniors from their 2009-10 team. Instead, Winnacunnet opponents proved to be little more than a speed bump on the way to a fifth-consecutive championship. Winnacunnet won all but two of its games by at least 10 points.
"It can get annoying because some of my friends won't even come to any games because they expect us to win by 30," Sullivan said. "It's not that easy."
Beattie is the central figure in all of this. He became Winnacunnet's head coach in 1981, two years after he started the girls soccer program at the school. He said he has always preferred to coach girls, in part because he finds them to be more receptive to instruction.
It would be fair to call Beattie vocal and blunt. He was barking at his girls back when not everyone thought it was acceptable to do so.
"I came here in the 1970s and there were not a lot of jobs available," he said. "I was happy to coach girls. I would have done anything, but it was available here. Once I started down this road it was easy to stay on the road. I think the other road is a little bumpier.
"I approached it like I wasn't going to treat them any differently than I would a boys team. I've always been described as a demanding coach. We're not running a democracy. We're not taking votes on things. I thought it would be disrespectful for me to coach girls any different than I would have coached boys. Then I would have been part of the problem at the time. Girls weren't appreciated. If they believe in you and know that you're on their side they'll go and do it."
Both O'Neil and Sullivan said the Beattie who parents and fans see on game night isn't the same guy they see in practice or away from the court. Still, he can be intimidating.
"The freshmen coming in always ask, 'Is he as scary as he looks?'" Sullivan said. "I saw some this year who were literally shaking. Mr. Beattie doesn't scare me at all. He knows how to pull your strings. I love playing for him. It's been a really great experience."
"He really cares about personal lives and things in general, so I feel like all of us have a strong relationship with him," O'Neil added.
The biggest scare Winnacunnet has received during this streak came in the 2009-10 season, when Manchester Central carried a lead late into the fourth quarter. Winnacunnet tied the game near the end of regulation and then prevailed in overtime.
More times than not, Winnacunnet's pressure defense settles things early.
The players on this year's team will be dealing with a different kind of pressure this season – the pressure to keep the streak alive.
"Every game is a day you can lose," Beattie said. "It's a double-edged sword. You put the Winnacunnet uniform on and the opponent is already thinking, 'Oh boy.' OK, so that's a help. Then when you put the Winnacunnet uniform on you bring out a whole history, and that's heavier than a regular uniform. So it works both ways.
"We're the team people love to hate now. We get the A-game from everybody, but in the last 77 games the kids have done a good job of focusing on one team at a time. It's gonna end sometime, and when it does it does. You move on. We'll have been part of something pretty important. It's been a privilege to coach these kids the last few years that's for sure."Roger Brown is the editor and
publisher of the New Hampshire Football Report, and also covers high
school sports throughout New England as a freelance writer. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.