The Andover High girls’ hockey team is off to a 6-0-1 start, the best opening run in the five-year tenure of coach Kevin Drew.
At the forefront has been stellar work from senior goalie Sean D’Urso. She started the season with five consecutive shutouts, including one against second-ranked Methuen/Tewksbury, a Division 1 state finalist last season.
A three-year starter, D’Urso has not forgotten the 6-12-2 finish her freshman year, and the team’s 8-10-2 record as a sophomore.
D’Urso offered a few thoughts as the Golden Warriors entered 2019.
“Everyone thinks we’re just a joke team,” she said. “The past few years, it hasn’t been shown.”
D’Urso pointed to last year’s 12-6-5 run, in which the Golden Warriors entered the tournament as the No. 22 seed before suffering a 3-0 loss to then-undefeated Austin Prep.
“We had to work our butts off the entire season,” D’Urso said. “When we got to play AP, we knew we had it in us, but AP was such a big name. We went in with our heads down. If we could’ve kept our heads up, we could’ve made it farther than we did.”
It was the deepest tournament run in program history. And it was the steppingstone for the current Merrimack Valley/Dual County League leaders, ranked sixth in this week’s Globe Top 20.
“We don’t have to prove it to anyone besides ourselves,” D’Urso said. “We’re not trying to show other teams that we’re great. We’re trying to prove it to us and to our coach.”
For starters, D’Urso said, they try to follow this edict from their coach: “Score three goals, and we win a game.”
So far, so good for the Warriors, who have scored fewer than three just twice this season — a 2-0 win over Haverhill/Pentucket/North Andover and a 1-1 tie with Billerica/Chelmsford.
The rule is a testament to Drew’s defensive focus.
Two summers ago, while visiting a friend in Canada, Drew took in a few girls’ hockey game, and studied the forechecking strategy. He came back and implemented a new defensive system at Andover.
Now it is starting to click.
“We don’t have a natural goal scorer,” Drew said. “We get around that. A lot of teams don’t even get any shots against us with the forechecking system we use.”
As the first pairing on defense, senior Katie Adams and junior Sara Carleo have spearheaded a unit that has allowed just four goals this season.
“[Drew] has so much confidence in our defense,” D’Urso said. “What we’re doing is working. We work very well in the defensive zone. If I need something, if I need help saving rebounds, I know they’re going to be there.”
Both D’Urso and Drew believe what fuels the Golden Warriors will not show up in the box score.
“I believe in high school sports, you don’t have to be the most talented, you just have to have the best team,” Drew said. “They’re much more confident in their ability. And it’s working.”
With a roster that boasts 10 upperclassmen — including captains D’Urso, Adams, Emily Wagner, Emma Gilmartin, and Callie Wiley — the Andover girls know where their program has been. And there’s an air of confidence about where the program can go.
“I don’t think people understand how much we want it,” D’Urso said. “We want this so badly. We are going to do whatever it takes to get to the playoffs, do whatever it takes to get to the [TD] Garden.
“We have so much determination, and I think other teams really underestimate us.”
At 5-1-1, the Peabody/Lynnfield/North Reading co-op is off to a hot start, punctuated by a 3-2 win Saturday over Winthrop/Lynn/Saugus.
According to Peabody coach Michelle Roach, it was the first win over Winthrop in program history.
“It’s been a long haul,” she said. “We’ve been trying to improve the program, over the last four years I’ve been here, I think we’ve made some great strides,” said Roach.
“This was a big game for us, this was a big league win, and it’s great going into January.”
According to schedules posted on MassHSHockey.com, the win was the first time in 13 games that the Tanners had beaten Winthrop. Including Saturday, Winthrop has outscored Peabody, 73-14 in that span.
“It’s a really big accomplishment. I think we’ve come really far from when I started out my freshman year,” said senior goalie Abby Buckley, a captain.
“Losing to them, it feels good to finally get a win.”
After Winthrop eighth-grader Julia Holmes (two goals) scored 3:50 into the game, Peabody junior Jenn Flynn tied it five minutes later. Junior Sammie Mirasolo scored two goals to lead the Tanners — including a shorthanded goal midway through the second period that proved to be the winner.
“A game like this boosts our morale,” said senior captain Kathryn DiGiulio . “I’m excited to see where it will go in the future.”
The Tanners have played well in close games, including a 2-2 tie to No. 15 Masconomet and a 4-1 loss to third-ranked St. Mary’s.
“It’s all about energy,” said DiGiulio. “Any team out here we can beat, as long as we don’t get outworked. I think as long as we come wanting to play, wanting to win — we can win.”
Games to watch
Wednesday, Dedham at Norwood, 4 p.m. — Both teams are 1-0-1 in the Tri-Valley League and this game could be a big swing in the title race.
Wednesday, Franklin at Canton, 6:30 p.m — A pair of undefeated teams with explosive offenses face-off in the first of two league meetings.
Wednesday, Reading at St. Mary’s, 8 p.m. — The Rockets have been a surprise, but can they stand up to perennial power St. Mary’s?
Saturday, Arlington at Woburn, 5 p.m. — The surging Spy Ponders look to maintain control of first place in the Middlesex Liberty against the struggling Tanners.
Saturday, LaSalle Academy (R.I.) at Andover, 7 p.m. — Sean D’Urso and Andover will put their stellar defense to the test against the heavyweights from Providence.
Correspondents Lenny Rowe and Dan Shulman also contributed.