January 29, 2018

Field experts

Kate Dolan, P ’11, ’15, and Martha Fenton ’83, P’17, lead by example on and off the turf of Phelps Stadium
by Allyson Irish

They’ve been coaching—and winning—together at PA for nearly a quarter of a century, but the first time Martha Fenton ’83 and Kate Dolan met on the field, they were rivals.

It was 1993, and Martha Fenton ’83 was leading the Exeter girls’ junior varsity lacrosse team; Kate Dolan was coaching Big Blue. There was a thunderstorm. The game was delayed. Andover won. Little did they know that the following year, the two would be back on the field, this time coaching together.

Two decades later they are still at it, coaching girls’ field hockey and lacrosse together—a formidable duo.

Dolan and Fenton with the Girls’ Varsity Field Hockey team. Photo by Gil Talbot.

Fenton and Dolan are in good company along with a handful of other longtime women coaches, including Shirley Ritchie, Karen Kennedy, and Lisa Joel. They coach, they teach, they manage dormitories, they’ve held increasingly complex leadership positions. They are what Athletic Director Leon Modeste calls “iconic figures in the history of PA women’s coaching.” Simply stated, “They do everything well.”

On a glorious late October afternoon, the pair are leading a field hockey practice in Phelps Stadium, the nearly completed Snyder Center rising in the background.

Dolan is coaching the goalies, putting them through drills, while Fenton is with the field players, their practice shirts emblazoned with the team’s motto, “Don’t Settle.” Big Blue is doing well this year. Coming off back-to-back Class A New England Preparatory School Athletic Council championships, the team is undefeated as they head into a weekend game against Deerfield Academy.

It’s a perfect afternoon to be outside—a light wind, sunny skies, the trees in full autumn display. On days like this, it’s great to be a coach, especially with your best friend.

“The same things matter to us: team dynamic, hustle, heart,” says Fenton. “We both have that same emphasis. We are lucky that we do—it’s what makes our partnership work. We complement each other.”

Dolan and Fenton share a lot beyond coaching duties. Both are PA alumni parents, student advisors, and cluster deans, and both teach physical education. Fenton was PA’s first female athletic director from 1999 to 2007; Dolan served as assistant AD from 2001 to 2006.

Both also excelled as collegiate athletes. As she had at Andover, Fenton played field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse at Bowdoin. Dolan played field hockey and was a member of the University of New Hampshire’s 1986 Division I women’s lacrosse championship team.

Fenton and Dolan have coached PAFH for the past 24 years. Photo by Gil Talbot.

Their shared history, friendship, and love of sport has proved immensely valuable, not only in moments of success, but also during challenging times. The suicide of senior Dan Nakajima this past fall tested the resilience of everyone on campus. For Dolan and Fenton, it also highlighted the importance of their relationship.

“That is when you see the strength of the team,” Dolan says. “Those kids really pulled themselves together through it. That is when you realize that sports are really just a part of what you do and secondary to many other things. It was one of the toughest weeks I’ve ever coached through.”

Fenton says she and Dolan often questioned themselves during that time. “It’s hard to know what to do. Do we play? Do we just sit? We tried to read them. Each kid was really different. You have to learn how to respond to them as individuals in those moments, but also to let them know that there is strength in the team.”

Leading by example. It’s something that Modeste says Dolan and Fenton do extraordinarily well—not only on the field but perhaps more importantly, off it.

With the 2017 field hockey season a memory now, Fenton and Dolan are settling into their winter routines and, of course, preparing for next fall. If their 24 years together have taught them anything, it’s that success can never be achieved without hard work.

Categories: Magazine

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