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Westford Academy seniors fuel turnaround for girls’ hockey team

Westford Academy's Kim Lizotte carried the puck during their game against Tewksbury/Methuen.

WINSLOW TOWNSON FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Westford Academy's Kim Lizotte carried the puck during their game against Tewksbury/Methuen.

Just a few short seasons ago, the Westford Academy girls’ hockey team was an afterthought.

The Grey Ghosts finished 1-19 during the 2008-09 season, then won just four games the following year when the current seniors were freshmen.

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Senior captain Kim Lizotte and her classmates have helped change the culture of the Westford program to a fun-loving, competitive, and winning team.

After a terrific 18-3-2 season last winter, Lizotte has led the Grey Ghosts to a 10-2-0 start, the latest a 5-3 Merrimack Valley/Dual County win Saturday night over Tewksbury/Methuen.

As soon as the puck dropped at the Methuen High rink, Westford took control and peppered junior goaltender Taylor Lirakis  with shot after shot.

Lirakis made a number of impressive athletic saves, but exactly three minutes in, Lizotte found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Lizotte racked up five points; her younger sister, Sarah, a sophomore on the first line, had four helpers; and junior captain Lindsay MacDonald finished with two goals.

“What we always tell the girls in practice is put your war paint on and be ready to go into battle,” said fourth-year coach Todd Fletcher .

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“The girls practice hard because they know that they’re only pushing each other to get better. But we have a ton of fun doing it.”

Fun is something important to the team, but at times difficult to remember for a coaching staff made up of Fletcher, who played at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Kevin Leonard  (Western New England), and Bob Ware  (coached at ­UMass Lowell), who have very competitive hockey backgrounds.

Fortunately, they don’t always have to remember.

“They remind us we have to keep things light and you can’t take yourself so serious,” said Fletcher. “What we strive on is that it’s going to be fun, and we’re going to compete.”

When asked about how serious their coaches can get, the elder Lizotte and MacDonald chuckle in appreciation of their coaches.

“We really try to focus on having fun,” says Lizotte.

“That’s where a lot of our success comes. We work really hard, and there’s a time to be focused, but you don’t want to lose sight of why we’re playing the game in the first place.”

“Plus,” adds MacDonald, “we’re having fun when we’re winning.”

Fletcher says that the competitiveness of the Lizotte sisters has rubbed off on the other players.

“The two of them, they battle with each other,” he said.

“It forces them to be held accountable, they work right off each other. . . and then [add] Lindsay MacDonald . . . it’s a good balance all three of them.”

Kim Lizotte loves the combination of chemistry and sibling rivalry. During warm-up laps in practice, Lizotte often races her sister around the ice.

“As much as we really work off each other, I think that there’s a lot of competition between ourselves to one-up each other,” she said. “It’s like an ‘Oh yeah? Let’s see you try to beat me’ thing.”

Fletcher agree it makes his job easier.

“Their intensity, and the way that they take pride in what they do, is just phenomenal,” said Fletcher. “It drives the team.”

Ultimately, the true test will come in the state tournament. After a 5-0 loss to St. Mary’s of Lynn on Jan. 21, Westford responded with back-to-back wins.

“We’re a gritty team,” said Lizotte, before MacDonald chimed in, “and we have a lot of heart.”

“We’re always ready, we always have energy, and we just give them a little push and they’ll always follow us.”

First win for Central Catholic

The Central Catholic girls finally cleared a major hurdle on Saturday night. After a strong three-goal first period, the Raiders rolled through the next two periods for a 6-1 victory over Bishop Fenwick, the first win in program history.

Coach Jeff Marggraf  said the 0-13 start has been a “humbling experience” for his team. Possibly the most gratifying part of the first victory is the circumstances in which it was achieved.

Central Catholic is fielding a girls’ program for the first time this year. Previously, any girl who was serious about playing would do so with the boys’ program. The inaugural girls’ team was slated to play at the junior varsity level, to build experience and a foundation. But upon further review, Marggraf discovered that the number of junior varsity programs in the area was limited, so the decision was made to jump in as a varsity squad.

The Raiders will not be officially a member of the Merrimack Valley Conference until next season, so Marggraf scheduled as many different foes as he could.

On Saturday, Central will face defending state champion Arlington Catholic.

“Playing the tough competition we are and getting that experience,” he said. “It’ll pay off for us down the road.”

Captain Molly Bryant , whose brother, Mike, played in the Super 8 with the boys’ team, is a junior. Goalie Sydney Thornhill , a goalie on the field hockey team, is also a junior, and the all-freshman first line of  Lexi Stanistewski , Emily Frocione , and Kylee Babcock  is setting the pace offensively.

Barron returns to school

Methuen High junior forward Brady Barron was back in school on Monday, two weeks after he suffered a life-threatening injury in a game against Gloucester. His wrist was accidentally sliced by the skate of a Gloucester player, cutting tendons and nerves and severing an artery. Barron was treated immediately on the ice by trainer Janielle Martin , a critical care nurse who slowed the bleeding before the arrival of EMTs. He was then rushed to Children’s Hospital for surgery.

The 16-year-old Barron is “doing great,” according to Methuen AD Jim Weymouth . He is not expected to play hockey again this season; his injury will require several months of rehabilitation.

Pat Bradley can be reached at patrick.bradley@globe.com.

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