No one sums up the turnaround on the ice in Plymouth better than the team’s head coach, Sadie Wright-Ward.
“All of a sudden, a team comes out of nowhere, strong,” she said.
The Plymouth co-op girls’ hockey team did not win a single game it played last season (0-19-1) but now, on the cusp of the New Year, the squad is already fulfilling its resolution -- to never let that happen again.
Entering its fourth season, the co-op comprising players from Plymouth North and South high schools are sitting happily atop the newly formed Patriot League, a conference studded with evergreen powerhouses like Duxbury and Hingham. After winning its first game of the season, a 4-1 victory over league competitor Pembroke in the Jim Gormley Cup, the Blue Eagles have flown to five wins and only one loss.
The success thus far is partly due to a dramatic hike in goals scored: 19 in all of last year compared with 21 already this year, led by freshman wing Maeve Reynolds, who has 6.
“It’s where we should be,” said senior starting goalie Kat Lombardo, of Plymouth South.
In its inaugural year, Plymouth stormed Division 2, entering the postseason as the third seed until losing to Medfield, 1-0, in the quarterfinals. The Blue Eagles again surprised the bracket by reaching the semifinals in their second year, before falling to Wellesley, 3-2.
It was nonetheless success that few could reasonably have anticipated out of a team with no resume.
“To see the program we fought to form doing well, how we knew we would, was validating,” said Lombardo.
Lombardo considers herself a member of the first generation of girls’ hockey players in her neck of Massachusetts. Like many girls fielding the ice for Plymouth now, she picked up the sport as a toddler because her dad and neighborhood kids played. She transitioned to figure skating, but it couldn’t last. Hockey drew her in.
As she played youth hockey for the town, she also carried her love of the sport to Sacred Heart in Kingston, which allowed her to play goalie in seventh and eighth grade for the boys’ team. But as ninth grade neared, Lombardo feared she had reached the end, with limited options for girls then.
Then, whispers about a high school program for girls floated around Plymouth. Some of the older town players, who would become the team’s first varsity members, began lobbying the school board.
“There was just a demand for teams, and the talent was getting stronger,” said senior captain and forward Kayla Donovan, an original member of the squad. “As we got older, we really just needed another team to play on.”
The union of players from the two schools motivated Lombardo. She made the move few talented high school hockey prospects do: She switched from private school to public.
After finishing a sterling first year as the starter netminder, a knee injury kept Lombardo off the ice for much of her sophomore season. But unlike most athletes during rehabilitation, she wanted to keep up with her goaltending responsibilities outside the net.
She took a camera to each of Plymouth’s practices, and by snapping photos of her teammates on the ice, she captured what she hoped others could see of her then two-year-old team -- something special.
“It was something that I always think about, even as the goalie, seeing the team from a different end,” she said. “When the team makes a really good play, you can see it unfolding, [and] it would be really cool to be able to see other people see it the same way.”
But without a stream of younger players gearing up for high school, like more established teams would have, the Eagles’ good luck turned on them. Seniors Shannon Colbert and Jessica Whyte, pioneers on the original team, graduated at the end of the 2015-16 season, leaving holes in the lines.
Add switching from the SEMGHL League to the Coastal League and bumping up to Division 1 -- the dominion of Duxbury, Barnstable, and Beverly/Danvers -- and Plymouth’s season was ill-fated. The team collapsed, dropping nearly every game it played.
“We were playing against teams that we had lost to the first two years; we played teams that had beaten us in the tournaments,” explained Lombardo.
By mid-season, Plymouth’s spirits were low. Tying with Wellesley 1-1 was its best result all winter.
“Eventually, some of us started dreading hockey,” said Donovan.
“We’d leave the locker room and wouldn’t say anything to each other,” said senior captain and center Kelsey Routhier, now with five goals. “We didn’t blame each other. We blamed ourselves.”
Lombardo, from her crow’s nest in the net, once again saw things a little differently.
“We didn’t stop, we didn’t roll over, because, if we did, it was pointless,” she said. “We were still competitive.”
Wright-Ward could see the same alternative storyline being written. Coaches from other teams, she said, would approach her post-game and express their shock.
“They’d say, ‘I can’t believe this team doesn’t have a win,’” she said.
This turnaround season is far from over. Plymouth’s schedule toughens up in January, with matches set against Hingham, Duxbury, and Barnstable almost back-to-back. But even so, this season, however long it lasts, will feel the way the win in the Gormley Cup did.
“It was a relief,” said Routhier. “Just to win a game.”Katherine Fominykh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.