Mariah Redler will have no shortage of memories from her season as senior captain of the undefeated Winchester field hockey team.
She will remember huge wins over powerhouse rivals Watertown and Acton-Boxborough, the injury that ended her high school athletic career, and the special group of girls that were at her side through it all.
And she’ll remember that it all traces back to a painful 3-1 loss to Acton-Boxborough that ended last year’s Division 1 North final.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to be there,” said Michelle White, the team’s head coach for 13 years, of that game. After graduating a deep and talented class of seniors, not even the girls on that 2016 team, she said, thought they could make it that far in the tournament. Still, Winchester controlled the first half of that showdown and scored first, but couldn’t hold on.
“It was definitely tough losing that way,” said Redler.
But that loss provided serious motivation to improve. White called out her players and pushed them to put in the work to reach their full potential.
“I had challenged them the year before just to work on individual skills,” said White, who realized that perhaps the challenge had not been accepted. “I said, ‘On your honor, raise your hand and tell me if you guys did it,’ and not one of them raised their hand.”
In that moment, everyone in the program realized that they had made it within a game of the state tournament without giving their best effort. The lesson learned and the message delivered were simple, but effective.
“ ‘If everybody gets a little better, imagine where we are next year,’ ” White said she told her team.
“They have met every expectation we’ve put on them,’’ she continued, “and as a group I’m just so proud of them.”
Leadership and dedication trickled down from the top.
“We held a lot of captains’ practices,” said senior captain Madison Micciche. “We just encouraged everyone to get down there, anyone who was in the program. We wanted everyone there.”
Those practices twice a week gave players a chance to do the individual offseason work as a unit. They held each other accountable, and grew together as a team.
“They completely owned getting better,” said White. “They did a ton of stuff in the offseason, and they really came back different players.”
That work payed immediate dividends, as Winchester ended Watertown’s nine-year unbeaten streak in only the new season’s second game with a 3-0 victory. The 184-game streak had been the longest in the country for high school field hockey. Snapping it gave Winchester tremendous confidence.
“Two weeks into the school year,’’ said Micciche, “we’d already achieved one of our goals that we had wanted for the season.”
It was the first of many boxes the team checked off. Winchester won the Middlesex League with a record of 17-0-1. Its lone blemish was a 1-1 tie against Belmont, but Winchester made up for it by winning the rematch, 5-0.
The historic win over Watertown started the year off right, and a revenge game against Acton-Boxborough bookended the regular season perfectly.
“We were ready, we were really really ready,” junior Clare Moloney-Kolenberg said with a laugh. “We were, not mad, but hungry for that win.”
Winchester ate, winning the Oct. 23 matchup, 3-1, and handing the top-ranked team in the state its first loss of the season. But unfortunately for Winchester, the win was costly. Redler, who scored 10 goals and assisted on 17 during the season, was hit awkwardly from behind in the second half. She knew it was bad immediately, and went to the turf screaming in pain. She had torn the ACL in her left knee.
“It’s been hard, just knowing that I’ll never play another high school sport again,” said Redler, who played ice hockey and lacrosse her first three years. Her teammates were devastated.
“They realize what Mariah is going through rather than what it does to our team,” said White. “I think that’s secondary.”
“Once Mariah got hurt,” said Moloney-Kolenberg, “we all came together and we just knew we had to win for her.”
For many players, an injury like hers could overshadow all else, but not Redler. Not this year. She said she will think instead of all the hard work put in during the offseason, and the incredible things she achieved with her teammates.
“We just have had such a successful season that Winchester field hockey has never seen,” said an upbeat Redler. True enough: Seventeen wins was the team’s best ever, as was the Number 2 seed in this year’s Division 1 North tournament — and it was only that because of a lost coin flip.
To Redler, though, another element trumped all the wins — the people.
“I’m going to think of my teammates, and how much of a great experience it’s been,” she said, singling out the senior captains who all brought something different to the table. She will miss Charley Miller’s intensity that pushed everyone, and Shannon Crowe’s sensitivity to others’ feelings, and Madison Micciche’s soft-spoken humor.
“It’s honestly the people you’re with,’’ she said, “that make things so much better.”Tom Petrini can be reached at email@example.com @RealTomPetrini.