How beneficial is the youth field hockey program in Chelmsford to the current success at the varsity level?
“I’ve been on that side, coaching a program without a feeder program,” said Chelmsford coach Susan D’Agostino. “Without a feeder program, the first day of practice, you have to start with how to hold a stick.”
Feeder programs have fueled many of the most successful programs in the state over the past decade, many of which are currently at the top of the MIAA’s Power Rankings in Divisions 1-4.
‘When you look at the tournament brackets, the teams with the feeder programs are usually the ones in the top 10’
Chelmsford coach Susan D'Agostino
Getting field hockey sticks into the hands of elementary school students and showing them that there is a fall sports option beyond soccer is key to both the sport at large and an individual high school.
“When you look at the tournament brackets, the teams with the feeder programs are usually the ones in the top 10,” said D’Agostino.
The feeder program in Chelmsford, which D’Agostino directs in addition to her position as the head coach of the ninth-ranked Lions, has added a grade to their offerings each year for the past few years. They are currently running clinics and games for players from second grade up until high school. D’Agostino was involved with the Chelmsford youth programs even while she coached at nearby Dracut.
The investment paid off. Not only are players coming to Chelmsford’s varsity squad with field hockey skills and game experience, they also know each other’s playing style. It has paid dividends for the Lions (9-3), who are currently sixth in the MIAA Division 1 Power Rankings.
“Getting to play the sport with the girls that you are going to play with in high school is key,” said Chelmsford senior cocaptain Emily Stagnone, who started playing at the youth level as a fifth grader.
That familiarity has helped create a sense of unity within the team.
“They are truly, truly supportive of each other on the field and off the field,” said D’Agostino. “They want what’s best for each other. When you have that amount of positivity and unity, you are going to be successful.”
Noting the number of players that graduated from the 2021 squad, Stagnone said, “Everyone has stepped up and we are really working well together.”
Stagnone, who is committed to play at Bentley next year, and fellow captain Remoré Serra, lead with “so much positivity,” said D’Agostino.
“But they also are members of the team. They don’t act like they are more important than anyone else.”
The UMass Amherst-bound Serra is as formidable of a player as she is a leader. She has been the Lions’ MVP since her sophomore campaign.
“She creates opportunities for everyone around her,” D’Agostino said. “That makes everyone better.”
Those opportunities have created a tight race for the team’s leading scorer, with the Lions’ 37 goals this season coming off the sticks of a wide variety of players.
“We’re very lucky to have so many players filter in and out of the offense,” D’Agostino said.
The Lions’ midfield and defense are seeing great contributions from junior Ava Balan and sophomore Jenna Nigro. Unlike her teammates, Nigro didn’t play field hockey when she was younger. Instead she played football.
“There is a level of aggression from football you can’t teach,” D’Agostino said. “Having that as the heart of the defense is helpful.”
A strong defense has been crucial — Chelmsford’s schedule is one of the toughest in the state. Their wins include 1-0 shutouts of Nashoba, the 2021 Division 2 runner-up, and Concord-Carlisle, the team that eliminated the Lions from the tournament.
The Lions play three games this week, before closing out the regular season with North Andover and a huge non-league tilt against No. 7 Masconomet.
Then it will be on to the tournament and, D’Agostino hopes, a deep run into November. With a foundation of unity built upon years of playing together, the team believes anything is possible.
“This is the most positive and supportive team I’ve ever worked with, and that’s what it comes down to,” said D’Agostino. “I don’t want this season to end.”
▪ What’s in fashion this October? Pumpkin coffee, flannel shackets, and field hockey goalies with 20-plus save games.
Central Catholic’s Ava Perrotta made 30 saves last week in the Raiders’ 3-2 loss to Wachusett, and followed Monday night with a 17-save performance against Chelmsford. Also on Monday, Apponequet’s Allison Arruda made 22 saves in a 4-0 loss to Durfee.
One of the most talked about goalies of the season, Methuen’s Alex Tardugno, made 22 saves against Pentucket, one of multiple 20-plus save games she’s had this season. Speaking of the Cape Ann, Rockport’s Caitlin Moran made 23 saves in a 3-0 loss to Georgetown Friday.
▪ The regular season is drawing to a close. The cutoff for scores to be submitted to the MIAA for tournament seeding is Oct. 30th. The Division 1 Power Rankings might be the most interesting to watch in these final days of the season; Walpole held the top spot last week, but Andover reclaimed it in Tuesday’s release. Reading has taken over in Division 2, and while Watertown remains the leader in Division 3, Foxborough leapt to second. Uxbridge continues to lead Division 4.
Games to watch
Wednesday, Braintree at Needham, 4 p.m. — These two Bay State squads faced off on Sept. 7; a last-second goal from Braintree’s Callie Burchill lifted the Wamps to a 2-1 victory.
Wednesday, No. 7 Masconomet at No. 16 Danvers, 4:30 p.m. — The top spot in the Northeastern Conference is on the line. A Sept. 23 matchup on Masco’s grass field ended in a 2-2 tie, so look out for some home field advantage in Danvers’ favor as the season series moves to their turf.
Friday, No. 4 Franklin at No. 3 Walpole, 3:45 p.m. — Will a scrappy Walpole squad be the first team to procure a victory over high-flying Franklin, or will the Panthers’ potent attack prevail once again? This nonleague tilt will have huge Division I postseason implications.
Friday, No. 11 Westwood at Wachusett, 4 p.m. — The hosts are sitting pretty at No. 5 in the MIAA’s Division I Power Rankings. The Wolverines (9-3-2), the defending D2 state champion, is ranked No. 8 in Division 2.
Monday, Somerset Berkley at Durfee, 5:15 p.m. — Two of the states’ stingiest defenses face off in this nonleague battle. Both teams’ goals against marks are in the single digits, so it’s anyone’s game.
Correspondent Olivia Nolan contributed to this story.
Kat Cornetta can be reached at email@example.com.