If one follows Massachusetts high school field hockey for a while, it is clear that fall brings a few constants.
Come late October and early November, no matter who graduated months before, Watertown is always in the tournament equation. Walpole — possibly the only field hockey team in the state to have its own team name, the “Porkers” — will be in contention in D1 South and have quite a deal of fan support. The Capes — both Ann and Cod — produce strong teams who fight to the last second. Somerset Berkley, boys or no boys on the roster, brings a physicality to its deep postseason runs.
There is another element that is as constant to field hockey as pumpkin spice coffee is to fall: Mae Shoemaker.
Shoemaker, who has been on the coaching staff at Acton-Boxborough for 20 years, is a mainstay not only in field hockey, but other sports at A-B. That is for good reason — she has been around for most of A-B’s seven state titles and several more North sectional titles.
A-B boasts nine seniors, including Claire Kearney, who is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament just as older sister Emma did in 2017. However, the program graduated many from what Shoemaker believes was one of her most talented rosters, forcing her to promote several youngsters to fill those gaps.
“The strongest thing we will have is our team chemistry,” said Shoemaker. “They need to learn to play with each other.”
The younger players have the skills they need, due to the strength of the junior varsity and middle school programs in the two towns. Field hockey is introduced at an early age in the Acton-Boxborough schools, and it prepares the next generation players to step up.
“It all starts with those younger girls and the junior high coaches,” said Lindsay Gibbs, who played for “Coach Shoe” from 2008-2011. “Then Coach has such a great reputation that they want to play for her when they get to high school.”
“Mae and her staff, all the way down through seventh grade, do such an amazing job building these players up every year,” said Acton-Boxborough athletic director Steve Martin.
When players make the varsity, they find Shoemaker to be a tough, team-first coach.
“She pulls out of her team the will to win,” said Gibbs. “She does a really good job of doing that.”
“Shoe emphasizes the team over the individual,” said Molly Feit, who played for A-B from 2007 to 2010 and now coaches field hockey in California. “I think this is where a lot of the program’s success stems from. There’s an expectation that you’ll show up to tryouts with better skills and fitness than last year — and the motivation is to get better for the team, not just yourself.”
Shoemaker may be tough on the field, but off of it, she becomes a reliable mentor.
“She is the type of coach that you can call anytime, and she will be there,” said Gibbs.
“Great coaches are ones that connect with students,” says Martin. “She shows an interest in her student-athletes outside of field hockey, and it shows in her student-athletes’ passion.”
If that’s not enough, Shoemaker teaches middle school, is mom to two triathletes (Jared even made the 2008 Olympics), has run the Boston Marathon multiple times, coaches lacrosse, and pops up on the sidelines for games and meets of all kinds.
Now she’s even coached through a pandemic.
“This year feels like I’m starting fresh,” said Shoemaker. “Every year there is something, and you deal with it. That’s kind of my attitude: I try to make the best of things.”
Her players, current and former, agree. “She is one tough cookie,” said Gibbs.
▪ The first MIAA field hockey tournament in two years will have a distinctly different look than it did in 2019. As a part of the divisional realignment, there are four divisions instead of two.
These new alignments break open more opportunities for some talented teams to make a run for the state title, but critics worry that it may eliminate a number of traditional postseason rivalries.
Somerset Berkley, the back-to-back D1 champion in 2018-19 which followed up with an undefeated season Fall 2 last spring, has been moved to D2, opening up the Division 1 South again for Walpole.
As tends to be the case in field hockey, some of the biggest news involves Watertown. The 18-time state champions at Division 2 are moving down to Division 3. The team that defeated them in a 2019 Division 2 North semifinal and won the sectional crown, Lynnfield, makes a larger drop, going down to Division 4. Westwood, which made the D1 South final in 2019, moves down to Division 2.
Revere, still one of the newer programs in the state, moved to Division 2 via appeal. The Patriots enjoyed their most successful season to date in 2019, going 12-2-2 and making the Division 1 North tournament, but moving to Division 2 will help continue the program’s growth.