Regular-season records no longer matter. Statistics carry no weight either. The MIAA state tournament opens Wednesday afternoon with preliminary and first-round matches in the Division 1 and 2 North and South brackets.
This season has seen its share of surprise runs, and while the tournament has a few new faces, the usual suspects are also ready to face new challenges.
“We are looking forward to what’s ahead in tournament play,” said Acton-Boxborough coach Mae Shoemaker, who guided the Colonials to the 2015 title with a 1-0 win over Longmeadow.
“The Dual County League is always competitive, we played some great games and terrific players.”
A-B has experienced its share of challenges this season between injuries and an improved DCL Large division that left Colonials in a three-way tie with Lincoln-Sudbury and Westford.
Despite the adversity, the Colonials allowed just nine goals all season and are favored to repeat in Division 1.
“Coming off such a big season last year, we knew that it would be tough to get back there this year,” said A-B defender Caitlin Little. “Everyone on the team has been working hard and it’s showing. Graduating such a large class last year, everyone was a little nervous, but all of the new players have stepped up and filled the voids. We’ve certainly had our ups and downs but as a whole, this season has been a great one.”
If anyone has anything to say about that, it might be Lincoln-Sudbury. After missing the tournament the last two seasons, the Warriors became a dangerous team to face.
“After two years of falling just short, it’s incredibly exciting,” said senior L-S forward Alanna Semerjian. “Preparing for our first game has been a really great bonding experience for the team since being in the tournament is new for all of us. We are treating the tournament like a new season.”
The rest of the Warriors are also ready for the second season, and are looking to make some noise with the clean slate.
“It is an honor to be in the postseason,” said L-S coach Vicky Caburian. “I am proud of the girls for all their hard work paying off to make it. It is a brand new season now and each team knows that it is win or it’s over. Massachusetts has a high caliber of teams competing.”
Walpole coach Marianne Murphy, whose 16-0-2 Porker squad is the No. 2 seed in Division 1 South behind Dennis-Yarmouth, calls the tourney “a new season.”
“Everyone has to be ready to play,” she added.
Walpole lost to A-B in last year’s state semifinals, 5-1.
The other side of the Middlesex League shouldn’t be overlooked either, with Winchester, Lexington, and Belmont all contenders for deep postseason runs.
“There are a number of really tough Division 1 teams out there,” said Belmont coach Jess Smith. “We are really going to have to step up if we want to make a run.”
Braintree, meanwhile, is in its first postseason. The Wamps, along with Needham, emerged from the Bay State Conference’s Carey Division.
“Being in the tournament and making history for the school is a feeling I never would have thought of in freshman year,” said Braintree senior leading scorer Deirdre Burchill.
Bridgewater-Raynham hosts Franklin, which barely beat out King Philip for the Hockomock League in the Kelley Rex. Oliver Ames heads to the playoffs for the third time in a row as the third Hockomock representative.
“As a team, we consider it a new season,” said OA coach Abigail Tepper. “We know that we have to prepare and reconsider formations. The team has come up with the word ‘unity’ to define what they are going to focus on postseason play.”
Each team has its own unique challenges, but they are united by their goals.
“In the tournament, two of the most important things are trust and instinct,” said Acton-Boxborough goalie Anna McCarthy. “Trust in yourself and your defense, and the ability to go with your instinct and make plays.”
Teams to watch
Andover: Andover earnedd a bye with a 16-1-1 record atop the Division 1 North bracket. The Golden Warriors will face the winner of 8-7-3 Concord-Carlisle and 9-9 Methuen, setting up for a potential quarterfinal matchup with eighth-seeded Lexington, and a semifinal that could pit Andover against fourth-ranked Belmont or fifth-seeded Winchester. Chelmsford also finished 16-1-1 and will face Natick to start.
Dennis Yarmouth: The Dolphins, who finished 16-0-2, will face the winner of Dighton-Rehoboth and Duxbury, both 9-6-3, following D-Y’s bye in the Division 1 South bracket. On the other side, Walpole, which also finished 16-0-2, will take on the winner of 8-7-3 Durfee and 10-5-3 Oliver Ames.
Watertown: Watertown returns as the favorite in the Division 2 North bracket, undefeated yet again at 18-0 and allowing just a single goal all season. The Raiders will face the winner of 11-5-2 Weston and 7-4-6 Swampscott. Manchester-Essex also finished 18-0 to earn a bye, and will take on the victor of 12-4-2 Gloucester and 10-7-1 Newburyport.
Seekonk: Finishing at 14-2, Seekonk gets into action right away against 16th-seeded Medway (8-5-3) in the Division 2 South bracket. Second-seeded Foxborough completed its regular season at 15-2-1 and gets matched against Westport, a 5-3-2 team.
Players of the Week:
Kristen Arthur, Whitman-Hanson: The senior scored her first two varsity goals in her final game, a 3-1 win over East Bridgewater.
Kourtney Kennedy, Watertown: Watertown wrapped up its regular season with a 6-0 win over Wakefield, led by four goals from Kennedy.
Bri Stokes, Lincoln-Sudbury: The senior forward got on the board twice in a 5-0 victory against Wayland.
Caroline Walsh, Needham: Walsh picked up four assists in a 4-0 victory over Newton North.
Marisa Ingemi can be reached at email@example.com.