Kylie Currier guards the cage with confidence and poise. In the first seven games of the season, all wins, she recorded five shutouts for the Masconomet Regional varsity field hockey team.
Yet before this season, the sophomore had never played the game.
“It’s just ridiculous,” said Masco coach Leah Gunner. “We put her in the preseason and just put the pads on to see what she [could do] and she stopped everything. She’s really one of those players that’s just an exceptional athlete.”
Formerly a soccer player for the Chieftains, Currier was persuaded to try out for the team in the spring, while playing for the varsity softball team.
Julianna Kostas, a senior captain this fall, began shooting on Currier after school, noticed her skill in net, and continued to practice with her throughout the summer.
“She has really good athletic ability and she has such passion for competition that she seemed like she would be a great addition to the team,” said Kostas, a senior from Boxford.
“One day I just slapped the gear on her and she stopped every shot I took.”
Currier, the third leading scorer on the varsity girls’ ice hockey team last winter, decided to try out knowing there was an opening with the departure of Cape Ann League All-Star senior goalie Ali Neuenhaus.
“I figured it would be close to hockey, but it’s not at all,” said the Middleton resident.
“A few times I would keep my legs open [like an ice hockey goalie], but in field hockey I have to keep them closed, which is one of the things I need to work on.”
It has not been an issue: She has allowed just two goals.
And much in her favor, the Chieftains return eight starters from a squad that was undefeated in the regular season last fall.
In her first year at the helm, Gunner took a squad that was 3-8-1 in 2011 and made a run to the Division 1 North semifinals.
“It’s definitely surprising and I can’t believe it really happened, but I didn’t really get caught up in it during the season,” said Gunner, who in 2011, coached the Masco junior varsity team to an undefeated campaign.
Losing is a rarity for the 27-year-old Gunner. An assistant track coach at her alma mater, Melrose High, she was part of a girls’ program that was undefeated indoor and outdoors last season.
And now, she’s on track for another perfect season: Her Masconomet squad has outscored the opposition 30-3 in seven games.
Gunner credits the opposition’s low attack rate to the way her team plays. The Chieftains move as a group — forwards playing defense, defenders playing like forwards — constantly attacking and angling themselves toward the ball.
The offensive attack is a nightmare for the opposition. Triton Regional did not muster a shot on goal in a 2-0 defeat.
“They have a very fast strong team,” said Triton coach Donna Anderson, who watched Masco dominate her squad on penalty corners, 17-0.
“They were on attack the majority of the game so we didn’t really even get a chance to challenge their defense.”
But because of their relentless attack, there has been the occasional defensive lapse.
Playing against North Reading on Sept. 16, the Chieftains allowed just two scoring chances, but the Hornets capitalized on both.
“Because we were rallying on eight goals, we weren’t as focused on playing defense,” said Currier.
“For an hour we weren’t really playing defense down in our zone and I think it just came as a shock when it came down to us.”
To keep her defense focused, Gunner unleashes all of her offensive talent in practice, which includes the reigning league scoring champ, Belle Ives.
“I try to put as much pressure on them in practice to work on skills, so I tell my defenders, ‘you need to practice against Belle every single day,’ ” said Gunner.
That is nothing new for sophomore center back Tessa Ives.
“She’s probably been my biggest role model because she’s pushed me to be the player that I am today,” said the 5-foot-6 first-year starter of her senior sister. “She trained me every day during the summer and she’s just been there by my side the whole time.”
Gunner says the younger Ives has had incredible composure in the backfield, “never getting frazzled,” and has been a critical asset defensively.
Belle Ives says she loves having her sister on the team.
“I can’t say enough about her work ethic and her drive,” said Belle, the Chieftains’ only returning CAL All-Star.
“It’s weird because she’s two years younger than me, but she’s made me a much better player, too.”
Now the elder Ives and her teammates want nothing more than to top last season’s playoff run, which was halted by eventual Division 1 state champion Acton-Boxborough.
The 4-1 defeat was an eye-opener and a great learning experience.
“I think the Acton game really showed us that there is a higher level than what we were competing with in our league [throughout the year],” said the elder Ives.
“I think it gave us a little glimpse through a door that we can definitely step all the way through this season, instead of just getting it slammed in our faces. It made us realize we can compete at that level this year if we work that much harder, because we know what’s coming up.”Taylor C. Snow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcsnow.