NATICK — Sometimes, when opposing teams try to whiz a small, dense rubber sphere past Jessica Federico-Grome , the Natick High junior employs a tactic quite unusual for lacrosse goalies: She tries to kick it.
“She comes up huge. She makes some pretty big kick saves and foot saves sometimes, which shocks everyone,” Natick’s coach, Ashley Mabardy , said with a laugh.
“That ball is hard. For her to step in front of it every single shot, she’s pretty fearless. It’s a great role for her.”
That’s because at her core, Federico-Grome isn’t a lacrosse goalie — or a lacrosse player at all. She has played field hockey since sixth grade, though, and became a goalie a year later. She took up lacrosse only this year, choosing to hang up her winter track and softball spikes in favor of a sport she had never played before.
Having a relative novice guard the cage has worked out just fine for Natick so far. At 7-2-1 through Monday, the Redhawks were on pace for a season considerably better than last year’s 8-10-2 campaign.
The Natick defense had limited opponents to 8.1 goals per game.
“You still have that goalie instinct to see where the ball is going,” Federico-Grome said, comparing the skills required by lacrosse and field hockey. “The ball is the same size — one is on the ground and one is in the air.”
Mabardy knew a year ago Natick would need a goalie for this season, with Jenna Mandozzi graduating. So when her field hockey goalie had a good season — Natick more than doubled its previous win total to seven last fall — she raised the question: Want to give lacrosse a shot?
Federico-Grome was ready and willing — more so the latter. A winter league with a team of Redhawks helped get her feet wet, but there was still a lot to learn when the regular season started this spring.
“She just threw on gear and at that point truly had no clue about the game, about the rules, was unaware of any systems or anything,” Mabardy said of Federico-Grome’s introduction to lacrosse. “She’s just such a great kid and such a good sport about it. She kind of taught herself during the winter.”
Once spring hit, Federico-Grome started to receive more formal coaching courtesy of Jamie Schiloski , a former all-star at Bay State Conference rival Framingham. The 2010 graduate moved on to play at University of Massachusetts Amherst, but for now she is an assistant with Natick during a year off from school.
Much of their time together has been spent trying to instill some lacrosse instincts while weaning Federico-Grome of her field hockey habits. The list includes, yes, more stick saves than foot saves, as well as staying close to the net.
Schiloski explained that in lacrosse, the goalie doesn’t stray very far, taking maybe a step or two to either side. In field hockey she gets more free range.
“I’ve had to confine her,” Schiloski said, laughing.
“The biggest thing for her is she’s extremely coachable. It’s hard to be a goalie and to come into a new sport and to be taught new things consistently and get criticism and feedback, and she handles it very well and shows that on the field,” she said.
Federico-Grome said the speed of the game is the biggest difference between the two sports. There are whistles stopping play constantly in field hockey, less so in lacrosse. It leads to a lot more fluidity, meaning she gets less “alone time” in net.
The most interesting development, Federico-Grome said, could very well come next fall when she returns to field hockey. She expects this experience to help with that because she has learned to be more aware of her surroundings.
“She’s always learning, too,” said senior captain Megan Tingley , a force on the offensive end with 17 goals and 21 assists. “There’s more to come from her.”
At half, Wellesley shifts focus to building depth
A month ago, at the end of a preseason jamboree that served as a final tuneup before the regular-season opener, Wellesley High boys’ coach Rock Batty had no idea what to expect from his team.
Five weeks and a 7-3 record later, his team’s only losses have come against Division 1 powers Lincoln-Sudbury Regional and Needham, as well as two-time Division 3 champion Dover-Sherborn. So surely he has a clearer picture of who the Raiders are. Right?
“I still have no idea,” Batty said, laughing.
Part of that is because the Raiders split their regular season into halves, the first one wrapping up Saturday with an 8-7 loss to Dover-Sherborn in the Coaches Cup Challenge final.
Now the team will embark on a new challenge: improving its depth. That includes moving one of the Raiders’ top offensive threats, senior midfielder Matt Dziama , to long-stick middie, and senior attack John Caraviello back to midfield. Batty also plans to give a pair of underclassmen big-time minutes playing close defense.
Senior Tucker Dietrick , who has won two-thirds of his faceoffs, and senior goalie Tim Rahill , who in his first year as starter anchors a defense allowing 6.6 goals per game, are among those staying put.
“We’re not a deep, veteran squad,” said Batty, who started the season with 19 seniors but many of whom were making the varsity for the first time. “We’re going to do some weird stuff because we want guys to understand the game better.”
Here and there
At 9-0, St. John’s High is the lone remaining undefeated boys’ team in the region. Needham (9-0) and Harvard’s Bromfield School (7-0) remain perfect on the girls’ side. . . . Waltham High’s Taylor Pinzone continued her prolific freshman campaign with 15 points (11 goals, four assists) in a 19-12 win over Arlington last week. She has 54 goals and 18 assists halfway through her first high school season.Tim Healey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him Twitter @timhealey.