They’re a hockey team with a first-year head coach, a fresh batch of girls from a different school, and no rink to call home.
It might seem like a tough mountain to climb. And yet, it’s a perfect scenario for Belmont/Watertown girls’ hockey — the state’s last unbeaten team. The Marauders are 9-0-3, ranked No. 14 in the Globe’s Top 20 poll, in first place in the Middlesex League’s Liberty Division, and have cemented themselves as a threat in Division 1.
How have they done it? It starts with the best scoring defense in the state, with just 10 goals allowed in 12 games. Their ferocious forecheck powers their offense — if the Marauders get the puck in the offensive zone, good luck getting them out of it.
But it’s more than that. As sophomore goalie Jil Costa puts it, the enthusiasm around this program is infectious.
“We’re all just having a lot of fun out there,” Costa said. “Every day, the energy’s at a high. It’s always just great vibes.”
They’ve harnessed that energy thanks to new head coach Brendan Kelleher. He may be in his first season, but he’s known this group for years. Kelleher coached every player on the roster at some point in youth hockey. He taught this year’s group of seniors to skate with the Mini Marauders of the Belmont Youth Hockey Association when they were 5. He called it a full-circle moment to be back with them.
“It’s been an extremely rewarding experience,” Kelleher said. “It’s been very special to me, just creating that positive, fun high school experience for them.”
Kelleher headed up the process of bringing Watertown aboard. There are only three Watertown players — seniors Molly Driscoll and Aislin Devaney and freshman Regan Driscoll. They played in a co-op with Lexington last year and having seen them, Kelleher knew the caliber of players he was adding. Add in that they all have championship experience with the Watertown field hockey team, and there’s plenty to impart on their teammates.
“It just really felt like a perfect fit for us,” said Driscoll. “You know, we are rivals or whatever. But here, we’re literally family. The coaching staff is amazing, and the girls were super welcoming.”
“We’ve played against each other for years in other sports and hockey as well,” senior captain Lola Rocci added. “Being able to play with all three of them has been an amazing opportunity.”
As if there weren’t enough changes already, the Marauders don’t have a home rink. Their normal home — the Skip Viglirolo Rink — was demolished earlier this year, but their new rink isn’t expected to be completed until March 2025. They practice wherever they can and play home games at the John A. Ryan Skating Arena in Watertown — but with several other teams sharing the rink, it gets hard to find ice time. They’ve never complained.
“We have different schedules each week for practice times,” Rocci said. “We’ve just been going with the flow, and it’s worked. We haven’t had any problems playing late or playing really early.”
All the off-ice factors aside, here’s how the results have played out on the ice: Costa has shut out seven opponents (Driscoll considers her the best goalie in Massachusetts), they picked up an overtime win against Reading, and battled back from a late deficit to tie No. 5 Burlington. Driscoll is the top scorer with 15 goals and Rocci’s nine assists lead the team.
There have been challenges and new experiences off the ice. But on it, the Marauders have yet to be deterred.
“It’s new for everyone,” Rocci said. “It’s not like it’s [Kelleher’s] first year and we’ve had multiple years of the co-op. It’s all new.”
▪ When the girls’ locker room at Hingham High began to feel a little bit cramped, coach Courtney Turner started looking into replacing the small stick rack that was built into the wall.
With the need for new uniforms, though, there wasn’t much room in the budget, so Turner asked Rorie Malerbi, a technology engineering teacher at Hingham, if his woodshop class could make a new rack.
Malerbi said he would see what he could do, but didn’t offer much else.
A few weeks later, when Turner learned Malerbi had enlisted his shop class to make a stick rack for the team, Turner knew she had to return the favor.
“I think it meant a lot to the girls, and it meant a lot to me, to be supported by everyone at the school,” Turner said. “He absolutely didn’t have to do that, so we were very, very, very thankful to him.”
It seemed only fitting to repay Malerbi, a well-known hockey fan, with a stick signed by the whole squad.
So, after Malerbi presented the team with the Hingham-red stick rack, complete with a “Harborwomen Hockey” logo and wheels for easy transportation, at their Jan. 31 game against Plymouth, Turner and her players surprised him with the signed stick, which Turner once used in her own playing career.
Reese Pompeo and her teammates are sure to score many goals with the sticks pulled from this new rack. All design and construction completed in the HHS woodshop, by HHS students, with expert supervision from a master craftsman and teacher, Mr. Malerbi! pic.twitter.com/24PcKXnBvG— Rick Swanson (@rswansonhingham) February 1, 2024
“Getting everyone within the school involved in sports is really important because it’s nice to have teachers support the students at the games . . . it’s just a nice way to interact and build relationships outside of school,” Turner said. “If teachers can take a little bit of time to come in and support some of the games, I think it really means a lot to the kids.”
▪ The Division 1 Power Rankings have shuffled around a bit since Friday, with St. Mary’s bumping Notre Dame (Hingham) from the top spot. No. 3 Malden Catholic stayed the same. Peabody, ranked fifth on Friday, flipped spots with No. 4 Lincoln-Sudbury.
In Division 2, not much has changed. The top five teams remain the same, with Duxbury leading the way, followed by Falmouth, Burlington, Nauset, and Longmeadow. Milton, ranked seventh on Friday, grabbed the sixth spot on the list from Pembroke, which lost to Hingham on Saturday and now sits seventh.
Games to watch
Wednesday, No. 1 Duxbury at No. 7 Malden Catholic, 5 p.m. — Coming off big wins against Canton and Notre Dame (Hingham), Malden Catholic invites seemingly unstoppable Duxbury to its home ice. The Dragons have won 12 straight, and will provide a tenacious opponent for the quick-skating Lancers.
Wednesday, Masconomet at No. 18 Gloucester, 5 p.m. — This Northeastern Conference matchup features Gloucester, with an offense that scored 13 goals in its last two games, against a Masconomet team on the upswing after winning their last two.
Wednesday, No. 6 Lincoln-Sudbury at No. 12 Methuen/Tewksbury, 7 p.m. — A trademark MVC/DCL matchup sees two teams sitting in the top 10 of the MIAA Division 1 Power Rankings face off. The Patriots edged the Red Rangers, 3-2, in their Jan. 13 meeting.
Thursday, No. 14 Belmont at No. 5 Burlington, 5 p.m. — Two weeks ago, the two Middlesex League foes skated to a 1-1 tie. With Belmont still unbeaten and Burlington 3-0-2 in its last five, both teams have a lot on the line.
Sunday, No. 9 Nauset/Monomoy at Pope Francis, 4 p.m. — Nauset/Monomoy has not lost since December, but have a bellwether of a game on the road against the top team in Western Massachusetts on Sunday. Pope Francis runs the gauntlet this weekend, facing No. 1 Duxbury on Saturday before then facing Nauset/Monomoy less than 24 hours later.
Correspondents Kat Cornetta and Julia Yohe contributed.