Jaclyn Torres is not imposing physically, at just 5 feet 4 inches. But every time the senior forward takes the field for the Andover High field hockey team, opponents take notice.
Her gritty determination is undeniable. And her elite stick skills are quickly visible.
Her return to the lineup for the defending Division 1 state champion Golden Warriors is just one of a number of factors that makes a run at a three-peat entirely possible in Andover.
The 21-0-2 run last fall, capped by a 1-0 win over Longmeadow in the state final, left the Blue & Gold feeling impenetrable. But coach Maureen Noone is back to earth, preparing for a season in which the Golden Warriors will have a target squarely on their backs.
“I told my team that if we want to be one of the best, we’re going to have to go and compete with Andover,” said Josselyn Mroz, the coach at Merrimack Valley Conference rival Central Catholic.
“They have a very solid, disciplined game and they know how to win. They also have a lot of experience in high-pressure games, which helps, too.”
Andover will certainly be tested soon enough.
Torres will be tough to tame
A senior captain who netted 18 goals and 10 assists last season, Torres spent the summer rigorously training and adding polish to her game. She has not yet committed to a college program yet, but she plans to.
“She’s such a gifted athlete,” Noone said. “The big surprise is the control of the ball mixed with maturity that she has. She does things that most kids can’t do even if they practiced their stick skills.”
Fellow senior captain Bridget Morris added: “Jackie is just the type of player who doesn’t stop attacking.”
With the departure of the Farnham twins, Anne and Kate, off to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the defense took a hit.
But senior defender Melissa Newton is more than ready to help fill the void. She was a key cog last season, and while she does not possess the speed of the Farnhams, she brings a hard-nosed work ethic.
“She’s been stepping up defensively,” Noone said. “When I think of the Farnhams, I think of two kids with tremendous speed. Newton is a grinder who will get the job done with her work ethic and being a senior in that role, she’ll need to step up and set the defensive tone early in the season.’’
Junior middie Weezie Gross is another player who has flown under the radar. But she scored 18 goals in 14 games last spring for the girls’ lacrosse team and is a “phenomenal athlete and has the speed and tenacity to really change the game when we need an extra lift,” said Noone. And in senior captain Meaghan Keefe (33 goals, 8 assists last season), Andover has the ultimate finisher.
The art of the repeat
A repeat is always a difficult task, but Andover followed up its 24-0-0 run in 2010 with last year’s title march.
Although the Golden Warriors graduated a great deal of talent last year, the eight seniors on the roster have experienced only success the past three seasons (the program has a staggering 64-1-3 record). This team has potential to be better than a year ago.
The majority of the players competed in a summer program in North Andover and attended the elite field hockey camp held at Bentley under the direction of the Northeastern coach staff, focusing on building chemistry and working as a unit. “We know we had a lot of good seniors who left, but that just makes us want to step up to fill those holes even more,” Torres said. “Coach conditions us hard and we all know that it has paid off. A team might have better skills but no one can out work us.”
Noone emphasized that her players have “great team chemistry.’’
“They rally around each other, and they get the idea that it doesn’t matter who scores, as long as we get the win,” she said. “I think they’ve understood the team comes first. It’s a running sport and you need to be in shape. We told them we’re not doing it to be mean, but to help them have the best chance to win day in and day out.”
Between the pipes
Last year’s standout goalie Shannon Tully is not back; this week, she is moving into her dorm at Providence College. Her stellar play (three goals allowed in 22 games) will be missed.
But junior Nicole Schena, who attended a camp at Boston College and a clinic at UMass Lowell, is prepared to step into a starting role.
“I think that the strongest part of my game is to clear shots and not leave room for second chance opportunities,” the 5-7 Schena said. “But I need to remain focused and keep our team in a position to win every time we step on the field.”
With the addition of North Andover to the Merrimack Valley Conference, joining Chelmsford, Central Catholic, and Lowell, Andover will be tested. There are also nonleague matchups against Belmont, Beverly, and perennial state power Walpole.
“The big thing was letting them know that we are starting from square one,” said Noone. “Trying to get that mental toughness will be key, to realize that you don’t have anything yet. Everyone would probably love to see you lose and that’s why you need to be the hardest working group.”