Coaches and athletes at all levels dream of going out on top, preferably with a championship.

But how many get to go out with a decade of consecutive championships? At least one.

Maura Fletcher recently closed the book on her tenure as head coach of the Newtown High School girls lacrosse program after a decade of dominance in which she and her Nighthawks claimed 10 straight SWC titles.

"My greatest joy of coaching is the impact I had on these kids. So many life lessons are learned through sport, and I was determined to be a good teacher," Fletcher said. "You can ask all of my players and they will tell you that I was tough, but I was always fair. I always treated them respectfully, as I expected them to treat me. I think that mutual respect is what made us successful. They played for me with heart and hustle."

The decision to step down from the program she loves was certainly not an easy one, but it is a choice that the veteran coach says she is at peace with.

"It was terribly difficult because I love what I do so much," Fletcher said. "I won't miss the pressure, but I will miss coaching the girls on a day-to-day basis. I plan on continuing to coach them in the offseason, so I won't be 100 percent out of the picture."

Fletcher informed Newtown Athletic Director Gregg Simon of her decision to retire prior to the start of the season sometime in the fall or winter, and after "trying to talk her out of it for about an hour," Simon accepted.

"I accepted that a 10-year run was a lot. That's a huge job that she did all these years," Simon said. "Any coach can build a team, but it takes an outstanding coach to build a program. It takes a coach who understands how to build players and develop all the key ingredients that go into being a successful program."

And despite Fletcher's feat of winning 10 straight SWC crowns, Simon was even more impressed by Fletcher's tireless devotion to the Newtown community.

"There was not a year that went by that Maura and the girls didn't commit to some kind of community service," Simon said. "They did so many different things year in and year out. She was always having girls be part of the Newtown community."

Some of the community service projects included working at the Special Olympics of Connecticut and working at the Ronald McDonald House in New Haven.

"I am a strong believer that you get what you give, and I taught my girls the value of giving," Fletcher said. "Over the years, we have done a service project every year. Last year, of course, was a very special year with the tragedy at Sandy Hook. It affected many members of my team very personally."

Pinpointing a single career highlight after posting a record of 140-38 (including state tournament play) isn't easy, but Fletcher isn't likely to forget her team's first win against Wilton.

"It was our first `FCIAC breakthrough,' " Fletcher said. "There are such strong teams in that conference. We came from a place where we couldn't even schedule games with them, to being competitive with them, and then to actually beat a few. Don't get me wrong. I am still humbled by the talent in the FCIAC. We still strive to just compete at that level."

Jim Kenning, who has been an assistant lacrosse coach at Newtown for five years and is also moving on after Fletcher's final season, took part in many of those programs community service projects.

"Every year, she tries to implement something so kids understand there are things bigger than game itself," Kenning said. "As much as she's about lacrosse X's and O's, she's more about the life lessons. She gets the best out of you and makes you the best player and the best person you can be. She's very thorough. She goes out and does her homework."

And as much as they loved winning all those championships, Fletcher's players seemingly enjoyed the community service projects just as much.

"One year we did something with the Ronald McDonald house," said Cassie Ekstrom, one of this season's senior captains and a defender. "She's very involved and she always emails captains and asks what community service we want to do, and we're happy to do it."

Under Fletcher's tutelage, three seniors from this year's crop will move on to play Division-I college lacrosse, including Ekstrom.

Fletcher also made sure her players were aware of her decision prior to the start of the season.

"I didn't want them to hear rumors or have it as a distraction, so I just told them up front," Fletcher said. "I cried a lot, not sobbing crying, but tears here and there whenever I realized something was going to be a `last.' I have recited something at the start of every single game for 10 years, and the last home game I had a tough time getting through it."

Knowing that 2014 would be Fletcher's finals season, the Nighthawks rallied around the idea of sending their coach out on top and did so with a 12-8 victory over Brookfield in the SWC championship on May 29.

"I think she knew when to joke around, but she'd let us know if it wasn't time for joking," Ekstrom said. "We really wanted to make sure that in her last year we got that 10th one and ended on a good note for her, more so than for us."

And even though she's no longer at the helm of Newtown girls lacrosse, Fletcher may be in the running for No. 1 fan in the years to come.

"Of course I will attend the girls games, but I'll have to get a muzzle," Fletcher said.

Needless to say, Fletcher will be missed at Newtown High School.

"It doesn't happen by magic. It takes hard work, and Maura was always willing to put in time and effort to make program so successful," Simon said. "I hired Maura, and I've never been sorry for a day."; Twitter: @jchik17