The middle school trio of Ashlie Jones, Kate Piacenza, and Rachel Peacock has combined for 39 goals and 31 assists this season for the Billerica High varsity girls’ hockey team, which started the week with an impressive 11-6-2 mark.
The three young players, along with eight other middle school students, are lacing up their skates for the state tournament-bound Indians this season.
The big question: Can they keep up the pace in the postseason?
Coach Tina Carrabba thinks so.
“We certainly lack the size and strength of older, more experienced teams, but what we don’t have in physical attributes our girls make up for it with heart,’’ said Carrabba.
“We struggled at the begining of the year with the girls’ commitments because they were on other [club] teams, and didn’t give the varsity program all of their attention, but they’ve made strides and are starting to play better team hockey.’’
Eighth-grader Peacock (15 goals, nine assists) and her middle school mates have left quite an impression on the rest of the Indians.
“I was the first eighth-grader to ever play girls’ high school hockey [at Billerica] and the only one that year,’’ recalled senior captain Elizabeth Darrigo.
“The experience I gained from playing at such an early age, and the battle of being a starting goalie for five years, has helped me teach them what I learned and just help them play better team hockey.’’
Is Billerica, though, a legitimate contender?
“They have a hard time executing with their youth and the fact that they are new to the systems,’’ said Chelmsford coach Lenny Rowe.
“But at the same time they really go after pucks with their speed. We beat them twice (4-3 and 3-1) and we have 10 seniors, so I think maturity will also be a factor in their tournament performance, but it’s anyone’s guess how they or any team will play in the coming weeks.’’
At tourney time, it’s T for ‘team’
Here are some other story lines to follow heading into tournament season:
■Does Malden Catholic have the right stuff for a Super 8 repeat?
With coach Chris Serino taking a leave from the bench this season because of a bout with pneumonia, interim coach John McLean says the Lancers will face a formidable challenge in their quest for a repeat.
“It has been an emotional rollercoaster with these high school kids beacuse of Chris’s situation,’’ said McLean. “But it is easier to win than repeat, and we can’t worry about Super 8, just the regular season and making sure our guys’ heads are in the right places.’’
Senior captain Brendan Collier (19 goals, 27 assists) and assistant captain Ryan Fitzgerald (19 goals, 13 assists) of North Reading have certainly stepped up in a time of need.
“We need to look to each other now more than ever,’’ said Collier, who will play at Boston University.
“Now we have something to play for,’’ added Boston College commit Fitzgerald. “Our three lines are rolling and we’re getting better shots every game. We have been there for anyone that needs a talk, and we need to stick together if we want to go far.’’
Here are five other storylines to follow with the MIAA playoffs just a few short days away.
■Can Kelly continue to pile up the points for the Watertown/Melrose girls?
Thanks to the blistering scoring pace of senior captain Erika Kelly (57 points), the Watertown-Melrose girls entered the week at 11-7-1 overall, and that includes a pair of forfeit losses for use of an ineligible player.
Can she continue to be the focal point and thrive?
“We only have 11 girls, including two defenders, so we have a lot of girls who double-shift,’’ said coach Steve Russo.
“Every year Erika finds ways to impress me, and she has over 230 points so far, so [as] Erika goes, so goes the team. Her leadership is incredible, as she plays almost every position, power play, and penalty kill.’’
With 38 goals and 19 assists through 19 games, Kelly must continue to dominate to help her squad advance through the first round of the tourney. She’s used to delivering in pressure moments: She’s the Globe’s two-time Division 2 field hockey Player of the Year for the three-time defending state champion Red Raiders.
■MacBurnie has been superlative in net for St. Mary’s.
The St. Mary’s of Lynn boys (17-1-3) suffered their only loss in the season opener to Malden Catholic, 5-2. But can a sophomore goalie lead the Spartans to the Super 8?
With Bailey MacBurnie in net , the Spartans have given up just 31 goals in 21 games.
“Bailey has been the backbone of that team,’’ said Malden Catholic coach John McLean. “But their defensive squad is tough, we tied them in the middle of the season, and it was hard to put anything between the pipes.’’
■Woburn girls put focus on a strong finish.
Sophomore Kayla Smith (31 goals, 23 assists) has been stellar for the Woburn High girls (15-2-1), but can the Tanners make a run if she doesn’t play well?
“We can’t depend on our first line to steer the ship,’’ said coach Bob MacCurtain. “We’ve been struggling to finish when we have leads, so consistency will be our biggest issue.’’
After opening up a 3-1 lead over Belmont heading into the third period, the Tanners gave up two goals and settled for a 3-3 draw on Feb. 15. Being able to finish and get the win will be the biggest question for the underclassmen-laden Tanners.
■Junior achievers paying off for Reading boys.
The Reading boys (12-4-6) have quietly surged into Super 8 chatter with a recent win against Catholic Conference power Boston College High. Can the Rockets continue to soar?
With 15 juniors on his roster, coach Mark Doherty believes this is the deepest team the program has fielded.
“I’ve been here for 24 or 25 years and my dad [Peter] before me, and this group has learned to promote tradition and pride,’’ said Doherty.
“Usually we have a few star players, but this year our depth and the fact that we won the Middlesex [League Large] will hopefully serve us well, but we’ll see where the chips fall.’’
Every team faces questions before the start of tournament play. What cannot be underestimated is the importance of team, and not the individual.
“Teams need to function more as a unit,’’ said MacCurtain. “If there is a team that thinks one guy or girl will carry them to the end, they’ll find out that they’re wrong pretty early.’’Ryan MacInnis can be reached at email@example.com.