WALPOLE — Make no mistake, the Mansfield-Oliver Ames co-op varsity girls’ hockey team did not celebrate many victories this winter.
But hidden behind the 7-11-2 record, the second-to-last place finish in the SEMGHL West, and the 113 goals against are two beacons of hope, two reasons for coach Pat O’Heir and his second-year program to believe there are much, much better things to come: sophomore centers Nora Maclaine and Victoria O’Heir .
In her first season with the program after her transfer from Archbishop Williams, Maclaine registered team-highs in both goals (28) and assists (16). O’Heir, the coach’s daughter, was right behind her with 24 goals and 17 assists.
The Easton residents were both among the top scorers not only in the SEMGHL West but in all of Division 2, and they combined for nearly two-thirds of the entire team’s goals.
The team has “already started to build around these guys,” Pat O’Heir said.
“These girls raise the level of play of the lesser-skilled kids. And having their leadership and their support of some of the younger players and to some of the lesser-skilled players, it really boosts their confidence.
“They’re both very strong skaters. They’re very strong physically. They pretty much can match up to any player on any team that we’ve played.”
The MOA bench boss has known the pair of sophomore stars through most of their hockey lives.
O’Heir helped his daughter make the transition from figure skater to hockey player at a young age. He also got to know Maclaine when he coached both girls with the U12 Massachusetts Spitfires, a club team based out of Iorio Arena, also the home rink for the MOA program.
The co-op team also received big contributions from Oliver Ames freshman Jamie Gotwald (nine goals, 18 assists) and Mansfield senior captain Maddie Hoffman (seven goals, 18 assists).
But for MOA, it all comes back to the other captain — Victoria.
She was actually the captain as a freshman in the team’s inaugural season — a decision the elder O’Heir said he stayed out of, instead leaving it to his assistants — but concedes that she did not come into her own as a leader until this season.
Maclaine, who has known Victoria since elementary school, backed that up.
“Coming in, [my] first year, I could see that she really tried to help me out,” Maclaine said. “She helped me get involved in the team because I didn’t know anyone. I knew her, but I didn’t know anyone else. She stepped up as a leader.”
That transition proved to be a huge boost. With the two high-scoring forwards centering what was in effect the team’s only two lines, MOA more than doubled its win total from year one (three), had a noticeable improvement in overall conditioning, and had certain other, intangible signs of progress.
The coach cited one of the final games of the season, a Feb. 20 matchup with Whitman-Hanson, as an example. MOA rallied twice to pull out a 3-3 tie and rob the Panthers of the last point they needed to make the state tournament.
“Having Nora come in and having Victoria and having Jamie and having Maddie Hoffman, having them and doubling our success rate from last year really raises some eyebrows around here,” Pat O’Heir said. “Good things came out of this year, and we look forward to more good things next year and beyond.”
The Duxbury High girls are the two-time defending Division 2 state champs.
Their senior captain, Hannah Murphy , though, wants a three-peat “more than anything.”
And for the second straight season, the Dragons (21-1-2) will square off against Falmouth with the state title on the line, meeting Sunday morning at 11 at TD Garden.
But no matter the outcome, it will mark the final game in a Duxbury hockey jersey for Murphy, who netted her 200th career point in a 5-0 win over Archbishop Williams on March 3.
“She’s a terrific kid,” said Duxbury coach Friend Weiler of Murphy, who has team-highs in goals (29) and assists (24). “One of the best athletes in the area. She never gives up. She comes to the rink every day ready to play.”
Murphy said, “To go out with a bang, that’d be awesome.”
The Dragons have beaten the Clippers (19-1-2) in four of their five meetings over the past two seasons. Duxbury avenged the only Falmouth win in the series, a 1-0 decision Jan. 5, with a 4-1 victory three weeks later.
“Knowing that we’ve beaten them before — and we know they’re a good team — it gives us a bit of a confidence boost,” Murphy said.
Weiler is spending the week preparing his crew to keep up the high energy it had in an 8-0 semifinal win over Tewksbury/Methuen Saturday, as well as staying sound defensively.
The hardest part, he said, might be staying focused during what feels like the longest week of the season.
“You want to keep it on a slow boil and then be peaking toward the end of the week,” Weiler said. “You want to make sure you get a good skate in every day so they don’t get rusty. But you want to keep it fun, too, so the girls stay locked in.”
Staying locked in will be key against a Clippers’ squad averaging nearly four goals per game.
Junior forward Alexa Scribner (21 goals, 15 assists) and sophomore forward Rachel Moore (17 goals, 15 assists) pace Falmouth offensively, but Weiler went out of his way to acknowledge sophomore goaltender Madison Scavotto .
Scavotto’s .950 save percentage and 1.23 goals-against average rival those of her counterpart, Duxbury junior Rachel Myette (.957 save percentage, .81 GAA).
“Their goaltender is strong, so we want to make sure we get a lot of shots on her, and move the puck well,” Weiler said. “A fast start is going to be important, to get a lead. I just want them to be ready to go and have that high-energy that they’ve had all year long and just be confident in their ability.”Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.