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Pochini, Sikalis still leaders in their field

Pochini, Sikalis still leaders in their field

As senior captains, Julia Pochini and Alexa Sikalis led Acton-Boxborough Regional High’s field hockey team to the Division 1 state title in 2009.

This fall, they are senior captains once again — Sikalis at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, ranked 14th in Division 1, and Pochini at Babson College, the defending regular-season champion in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.

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Pochini, who has started every game since her freshman year for the Wellesley school’s Division 3 program, enhanced her role as a go-to player at center-midfield with six goals and seven assists last season.

Sikalis, who set the career scoring mark at Acton-Boxborough in her senior season, started all 24 games at UMass last fall, finishing with three goals and six assists as the Minutewomen captured the Atlantic-10 Conference title and an NCAA tournament berth.

Sikalis and Pochini first played organized field hockey at R.J. Grey Junior High in Acton, on a team coached by Sikalis’ mother, Laura .

“I grew up loving ice hockey, and when Alexa talked about playing field hockey, I wasn’t that interested,’’ Pochini recalled. “I didn’t want to wear a skirt and I wasn’t sure it was for me, but when I started scoring a few goals and realized how challenging a sport it was, I liked it a lot more.’’

Pochini made the high school varsity as a junior, a year after head coach Mae Shoemaker guided the team — which included Sikalis — to the 2007 state crown. Acton-Boxborough, with Shoemaker at the helm, also captured the state title last fall.

“She was an inspiration to me,’’ Pochini said.

She was center-midfielder in high school but was moved to the flank as a freshman at Babson, where the position was already taken by Colleen Kelly , the conference’s Player of the Year.

“Julia learned a lot from Colleen and then I kind of threw her into the fire her sophomore season at center-mid, especially as our stick stopper on penalty strokes, because she’s an excellent distributor of the ball who makes good decisions,’’ said Babson head coach Julia Ryan.

“She’s just a really smooth player with a great instinct for the game who has learned to handle pressure. When there’s a 50-50 ball, I know she’ll work as hard as she can to win it,’’ added Ryan, whose team opened its season Aug. 30 with a 2-1 win at Endicott and improved to 2-0 with a 1-0 win over Union on Tuesday.

Pochini, who attempted a total of seven shots her first two seasons, became a dual threat last year when she unloaded 30 shots.

“As time went on, I got to know my role better and when Coach put me at stick stopper, my confidence grew,’’ said Pochini. “Being a captain means a lot to me. I want to be as welcoming to our freshmen as Colleen was to me, and because our seniors have had a taste of the NCAAs and winning league titles, I want us to keep meeting those expectations.’’

Sikalis, a Globe All-Scholastic and second team All-American at Acton-Boxborough, was named the Outstanding Player of the A-10 tournament as a freshman at UMass.

A participant with US Field Hockey’s Futures Elite program since 2007, Sikalis played in the U-21 Women’s National Championship, an event held to assist in choosing athletes to represent Team USA at the Junior World Cup.

UMass head coach Carla Tagliente said that in the first three games this season — victories over Maine (2-1), ninth-ranked Michigan (3-2), and UMass Lowell (6-0) — Sikalis took control defensively after shifting over from the side midfield, which is more of an attack position.

“She really fits that role so well,” said the coach. “She’s pretty intense. She’s always been really feisty. And it’s because she has pretty high expectations of herself, exceedingly high. But this season she’s really coming into her own and knowing what her role is on the team.

“She communicates very well, and though you won’t find her screaming on the field, she embodies her intensity through her play. She’s a winner, that’s how I would describe her . . . she’s just blue-collar.”

And as a two-time state champion in high school, Tagliente said, Sikalis “understands the process now and the path it took to get there.”

Sikalis confirms that she is “really intense,” saying, “I’m always going to do whatever it takes to win, that’s my kind of mentality.”

And she still enjoys her friendly competition with Pochini.

“When we were in high school and would play games on opposite teams, I always wanted to win. But in college it’s not like that. I want her to do the best she can and to win.

“It works out that we’re both playing the same sport at different colleges. We can always go to each other for encouragement or advice,’' Sikalis said. “It’s a great feeling to know you have that person.”

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com. Correspondent Lorenzo Recupero contributed to this story.
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