WLC’s Claire earns top honor
Longtime softball skipper earns third straight Division IV Coach of the Year award
In his 26th year at WLC, coach Dennis Claire led the Warriors to their eighth championship game in the last nine years and an 11th straight No. 1 seed. Claire was recently named the Division IV Coach of the Year for a third season in a row. (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Wilton-Lyndeborough softball coach Dennis Claire considers this season to be one of the most challenging of his 26-year career.
And it did not go unnoticed.
Claire was recently named the Division IV Coach of the Year, voted on by the other 17 coaches that make up the division.
“It’s a nice award to get, but I never really think about it,” said Claire.
It marks the third straight year that Claire earned the honor and second time in as many years he won the award outright. In 2011, Claire shared it with Woodsville’s Dana Huntington.
“This was a tough year to coach as far as planning,” said Claire. “We never knew what to expect each game.”
Last season, when the Warriors went undefeated and won the seventh state championship in program history, it was Claire’s first solo award despite his long resume of success. Since taking over in 1988, Claire has guided WLC to 13 championship games and six titles.
“We do have a pretty good program and we can compete with any team,” said Claire.
But he does not take all the credit.
“He is a big help,” Claire said of assistant Bill Draper. “There’s not a better assistant coach as far as I’m concerned.”
When practice began in March, Claire was not quite sure what would become of this season. Despite returning seven starters, Claire had two big holes to fill in the lineup.
Over the years, Claire has been blessed with a long line of experienced pitchers that have established WLC as a powerhouse in Division IV. But that was not the case after the graduation of Sam Broderick, the D-IV Player of the Year, while also having to replace catcher Katie Day.
This time around, Claire didn’t have the luxury of a top tier pitcher. Senior Deanna Davidson, who had only thrown a few innings in her high school career, volunteered to pitch as freshman Ally Schwab slid into the catcher role.
Even with those positions figured out, Claire still knew the Warriors would have to hit and play good defense in order to compete with the better teams on their schedule. And for the most part that is what happened.
“We had to focus a lot more on our offense and defense,” said Claire. “And most of the time, we managed to do the those things right.”
WLC had some ups and downs, including surrendering 19 runs in the fourth inning in the season opener that led to a 20-15 loss at Hinsdale. But the team more than held its own. The Warriors had the most potent offense in Division IV, scoring double digit runs in 11 of 16 regular season games, leading to an unprecedented 11th straight No. 1 seed.
“This year was a surprise,” said Claire. “I don’t think anyone expected us to be there this year.”
But like always, the goal was to make it to Plymouth for the Final Four. WLC survived a first round scare from Groveton, dominated Sunapee in the quarterfinals and played its best game of the season in a win over Profile in the semis.
And while things did not go the Warriors’ way in a 19-10 loss in the championship game, Claire was proud of the way his team played all season. He did not expect to make it that far, but after seeing the competition he would put his team up against any other in Division IV.
“I think we were as good as the other teams,” said Claire.
Overall, WLC finished 16-4 with 13 of those wins coming in the regular season.
For his career, Claire has 418 wins and was inducted into the NHIAA Hall of Fame with the class of 2008.