Emma Kearney watched from the sideline as her Acton-Boxboro teammates advanced to last year’s Division 1 state field hockey semifinals against Walpole.
The Colonials were derailed in their quest for back-to-back titles with a 1-0 loss.
The previous season, as a sophomore spark off the bench, Kearney scored a hat trick against Walpole in the semis, followed by the game’s lone goal of the state final against Longmeadow.
“What we were missing last year was the ability to score goals,” head coach Mae Shoemaker said. “So far this year, we’ve scored plenty of goals.”
A-B racked up 20 goals in a 3-0 start, with Kearney producing nine goals and one assist.
“That’s a real positive to be able to put the ball in the back of the net,” added the coach.
Kearney tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee playing lacrosse in the spring of 2016. (She has committed to playing the sport at Harvard next year).
She missed the entire field hockey season last fall, though she fervently implored the team to let her play late in the year.
Now she says the knee feels pretty good.
“It’s my second season coming back, because I started with lacrosse season [in the spring],” she Kearney. “I feel almost back to where I was a couple years ago, which is really exciting.
“No discomfort, no pain,” she added. “I worked really hard to make sure it’s OK,” she said, with seemingly just a hint of exasperation and anxiety.
She certainly is not holding back.
Kearney is relentless, diving headlong into netfront scrums, swinging her stick down trying to chip in loose rebounds.
She scored first-half goals in a 4-0 win over Weston on Tuesday. The game was more competitive than the team’s first two, perhaps in part because the Wildcats often crowded bodies into the circle to try and clog passing and shooting lanes for the dangerous A-B offense.
“She’s a great asset to the team,” said fellow senior captain Caitlin Little, a midfielder. “She finishes every play and scores a lot of goals. She helps us win.”
Kearney, Little, and classmates Molly Page, a defender, and Kathryn Lundquist, a midfielder, have been the leaders for a Colonials team off to a 3-0 start.
“I’m trying to get the seniors to play an important role in building the underclassmen,” said Shoemaker, while also noting the leadership of senior goalie Anna McCarthy.
Shoemaker also made sure to qualify the team’s strong start. “It’s gonna be interesting as the season goes on because everybody gets better,” she said. “But they’re gelling as a team which is the important part to me.”
Kearney lauded the coaching of Shoemaker.
“She’s never complacent or satisfied with our work,” she said. “We never stop getting better.”
Little is the team’s vocal leader, calling out adjustments to her teammates on the field. Kearney is a leader through example. The team emphasizes intense play, and no one exemplified that more than Kearney against Weston.
“The other day, after the first game, she told her mother [Karen] ‘it just feels so good to be back,’” Shoemaker said.
“You can imagine, if that’s how she’s talking to her mom, that’s what she’s showing on the field.”
Kearney runs as fast as any player she’s on the field with and uses her strong shoulders and back to rifle home shots and clean up errant rebounds.
“The kids are really happy to have her back and that’s a lot of the reason we’ve been scoring more goals this year,” Shoemaker said. “She’s a pretty talented young woman.”
■ After the most significant win of her coaching career against Watertown Monday night, Winchester coach Michelle White said the key was playing with confidence.
“No matter what, when you play Watertown there’s always that intimidation factor and its always in the back of your mind,” she said. “[Our players] didn’t let the streak or the record or the aura that surrounds Watertown get to them.”
“It was one of the best days as a coach, to be able to coach, but it was not surprising in the least,” she continued.
“From the day that we lost [the Division 1 North final to Acton-Boxboro], I started thinking about this season . . . They owned the offseason. They made it their business to figure out what they needed to do individually and they did it.”
■ After eight seasons as the varsity coach at Franklin, Lisa Cropper will take on a new challenge next fall: as the head coach at Dean College, which is reviving its field hockey program at the Division 3 level.
“Both my guys are now in college, it kind of opened things up a little bit more for me,” she said. “It’s right here in my hometown and I didn’t realize that they were going to restart the program until I saw the ad. I figured what the heck, I might as well give it a shot.”
Cropper said the most attractive aspect is being able to build a program from scratch. She started a softball program at Boston University in the ‘80s and was eager to do the same with field hockey.
“Field hockey is my first love so to do that with a field hockey program at the college level really sounded exciting to me.”
As for the program she will leave behind in Franklin, Cropper said, “I really don’t see it dropping off much if at all. If anything it’s gonna keep getting stronger I think.”
■ Though it now stands in the shadow of Winchester’s victory over Watertown, King Philip had a morale-boosting victory of its own last week when it defeated reigning Division 2 South champion Foxborough, 4-1.
“We backed each other up all over the field,” head coach Liz Hathaway said.
Hathaway said chemistry is a strength, with nine returning starters from last season. “They anticipate really well, where our combinations are for give and go’s and moving the ball upfield,” she said.
Hathaway lauded four players that have been pivotal in KP’s success, captains Liz Furfari, Christina Hathaway (the coach’s daughter), Alli Meehan, and Abby Campbell.
As for Foxborough, Hathaway said it came down to gameplan.
“We knew that their returning goalie [Kelli McCarthy] was Hock MVP last year, so we knew she was really solid clearing the ball,” she said.
“But our key was to try and anticipate where the rebounds were going to come off her pads and really try to get close to get tips . . . We were able to get corners and score or get nice crosses and tip it in in front of the net.”
Players of the Week
Christine MacCune, Scituate: The Sailors’ senior captain, a returning Patriot League All-Star, made 23 saves in a shutout of Duxbury.
Eileen Manning, Needham: The No. 18 Rocket attack has followed the lead of Manning. She had two goals and an assist against Weymouth, two tallies against Natick, and one more goal against Framingham.
Jill Miele, Wilmington: The junior tallied three goals and an assist to power the Wildcats to a rout of Middlesex rival Woburn.
Megan Salsinha, Somerset-Berkeley: With a hat trick and an assist against Dartmouth Monday afternoon, the junior has provided an early spark for the Raiders.
Keira Semerjian, Lincoln-Sudbury: This senior captain notched four goals and two assists in wins against Wayland and Bedford.
Games to Watch
Thursday, Westford Academy at Acton-Boxborough (3:45 p.m.) — Top-ranked A-B will have its unbeaten start tested when they host the Grey Ghosts in a Dual County Large matchup.
Friday, Winchester at Lexington (3:45 p.m.) — After snapping Watertown’s 184-game unbeaten streak Monday, the Winchester shoots for a 4-0 start against Middlesex Liberty rival Lexington.
Friday, Andover at Dracut (3:45 p.m.) — Third-ranked Andover has already beaten two capable opponents in Central Catholic and North Andover; their next matchup is on the road in Dracut in a Merrimack Valley matchup.
Monday, Walpole at Needham (6:30 p.m.) — A battle of the Bay State Conference’s best. Off to a 4-0 start, the Rockets host the defending Division 1 champions.
Tuesday, Watertown at Wakefield (3:45 p.m.) — The Raiders bounced back from Monday’s loss to Winchester with a shutout of Arlington. Can they make it two in a row against Wakefield?Ryan Hathaway can be reached at email@example.com.