In her first season as coach at North Andover, her treasured alma mater, Liz Day had a number of juniors that were first-year varsity field hockey players.
The Scarlet Knights finished 10-6-2, earning the 13th seed in the Division 1 tourney. But they had difficulty closing out games.
“They were athletic, but now they’re seniors,” said Day.
And that additional year of experience is certainly paying off.
North Andover is off to a 9-1-1 start following a 7-0 victory over Dracut on Wednesday night, its lone loss a 3-1 defeat in the second game of the season to still unbeaten Andover.
“I returned my whole starting lineup, except for one, so I’m very senior heavy this year,” said Day, who starred for the Scarlet Knights before a storied career at UMass Lowell, where she was a first-team Division 2 All-American and scored the lone goal in the 2010 national championship game.
“They definitely know, now, the type of work it takes to win those close games and be on top. My girls came back focused, they’re hungry for it this year.”
Seniors Dana Swartz (15 goals, 3 assists) and Sarah Bagley (4 goals, 13 assists) have fueled the attack along with sophomore Lexi Rivet (12 goals, 2 assists), a returning starter at forward.
“I think we all really bonded last year a lot, and adapted to each other’s styles of play,” said Bagley, a captain.
“Coming into this year, when I’m on the field I feel like I always know where everyone is going to be — it’s great because we basically have had two years to grow as a team.”
Bagley, said Day, is the rock in the middle of the field.
“Everyone else plays around her,” Day said. “She did so much work on the season and has been taking the team on her back from the midfield.”
Day also singled out the of play of left midfielder Keelin Rogers , the team’s other senior captain.
“She’s so powerful and she works so hard, she always leads by example with her work ethic,” sid the coach.
In goal, senior Annie Panos has yielded just seven goals in 11 games.
“We’re all very passionate, it’s our last year,” Bagley said.
“Every game the intensity is just unbelievable, I think everyone’s just taking every game and playing like it’s our last chance to play together and that helps us a lot in games that are close.”
But just ahead are a pair of challenging foes: top-ranked Acton-Boxborough, followed by a Monday rematch against Andover.
The early loss to Andover provided a spark.
“It showed us we weren’t ready and where we needed to be at the start of the season,” Day said.
“It was a good wakeup call, and since then they’ve been focused.”
Bagley said the Scarlet Knights have exhibited more poise, and confidence, since the defeat.
“Going in confident is a huge thing, and we just need to put in the work this week, mentally and physically, to stay focused, to get every rep to better face these opponents,” Day said.
“Our practice time is gonna be super important — that we challenge each other the right way, that we’re intense every practice, because obviously those are gonna be tough matchups.”
But likes what she has seen by a motivated collection of senior leaders.
“Making the captain decision, we did it by team vote, but picking two kids out of this class of seniors was a really difficult thing to do,” she said.
“And as a whole, this senior class is so focused, they all want it, and they all work together so well, they push each other . . . That will hopefully make a difference as we push forward into these last games.”
■ After a 6-1 start, Plymouth North is winless in its next four games. But with the expected return of senior goalie Ariana Bremis , a returning Patriot League all-star, coach Kristen DiGravio is unfazed.
Freshman Maeve Tierney stepped into net when Bremis was injured two games into the season. The first-year keeper earned three wins in goal, earning praise from DiGravio. But the coach is also pleased to see her senior back in goal.
The Eagles (6-4-1) got off to a strong start in part due to a senior-laden roster that has established a new culture of success.
“These seniors really have turned the program around,” said the coach.
“When they came in as freshman, Plymouth North was just slowly starting to win games.”
DiGravio recalled that in her first season, seven years ago, North was in the midst of a winless stretch that stretched several seasons. Her first team scored one goal the entire season and earned one point for a tie.
This season, Plymouth North has netted five-plus goals in four games.
Senior forward Sophia Cotone (6 goals, 3 assists) is flanked on her left by freshman Maeve Reynolds (8 goals, 6 assists), and on her right by sophomore Jeff Yang (7 goals, 3 assists), the first male field hockey player in program history.
“He’s super, super fast and brings excitement to the team,” DiGravio said. “This is his first year playing and it’s been a seamless transition, no gender issue at all.”
The coach said her forward trio will do “give-and-go passes that are just beautiful. Plymouth North is more of a finesse team now than they used to be, our skill has just risen immensely in the last seven years.”
Reynolds, with a hockey background, is the team’s leading scorer in her first year playing the sport. Senior captain Caroline DiGravio , the coach’s daughter, shifted from the midfield to defense this year.
Seniors Isabella Balboni and Julia Zaniboni , who were Patriot League All-Stars along with Bremis and DiGravio.
“This group of seniors has decided that they want Plymouth North field hockey to be taken seriously,” the coach said.
“I think it’s important that they know not only their schoolmates and their town is talking about them, but that we’re right in the mix in the Patriot League,” she said. “And they’ve worked really, really hard to get there.”
■ Cohasset had a relatively light schedule early on. But the Skippers have surged to a 8-2 start under the direction of nine-year coach Laura Giuliano.
“It’s been a quiet start to the season,” said the coach. Several games were postponed because of wet weather. In addition, the schedule no longer includes Hull, which has dropped out of the South Shore League.
In a five-game slate this week, the Skippers have already shut out 11th-ranked Falmouth, 3-0, and blanked East Bridgewater, 9-0. In a Wednesday night match against No. 17 Dennis-Yarmouth, Cohasset dropped a 2-1 decision. Games will follow against Carver (Thursday) and Hanover (Friday).
The roster is deep, lead by nine returning seniors, six of whom were starters, and promising sophomores.
“There’s a new wave of incoming talent,” said Giuliano.
The other secret to her team’s success?
“It’s athleticism,” she said. A number of her key players, including seniors Elle Hansen , Lauren Cunning , and Aidan Chamberlain , as well as junior Jane Hansen, and sophomore Maddie Donovan , all play lacrosse for the defending Division 2 state champions. “They’re gamers and they want to win,” she said.
She also schedule challenging game outside of the SSL, including Falmouth and D-Y.
“If you’re not playing hard teams you don’t develop,” she said.
Players of the Week
Grace Blunt, Concord-Carlisle — The junior made 15 saves to shut out No. 18 Lincoln-Sudbury, 1-0.
Lily Rothwell, Lynnfield — The Pioneers (8-3) are rolling as the tourney approaches, thanks to performances like this sophomore’s hat trick against Peabody (4-0). She one goal in the game prior, a 2-1 win over Ipswich.
Ally Naumann, Norwood — Canton was rolling until it took on the Mustang sneior goalie, who stopped 18 of 19 shots in a 2-1 win.
Madison Micciche, Winchester — The senior is one of the best for the sixth-ranked Sachems; she had a goal and three assists in a 5-0 rout of Stoneham.
Sydney Poulin, Watertown — The senior tallied four goals and an assist across two games, a 6-1 victory against Belmont squad and a 6-0 win against Woburn.
Games to Watch
Friday, Chelmsford at Central Catholic (7:30 p.m.) — The MVC Large has been highly competitive this falla and the ninth-ranked Lions have their work cut out for them against Central.
Monday, North Andover at Andover (7 p.m.) — The second-ranked Golden Warriors handed the Scarlet Knights their only loss of the season in the opener (3-1).
Monday, Lincoln-Sudbury at Acton-Boxborough (4 p.m.) — L-S has lost two of its last three and stopping the skid won’t be easy against the top-ranked Colonials, who have already beaten them once.
Monday, Watertown at Wellesley (4 p.m.) — The truly elite teams have begun to separate themselves and the host Raiders — ranked fifth — seem to belong in that group. But Watertown, always impressive, will test their mettle once more.
Tuesday, Oliver Ames at King Philip (3:45 p.m.) — The eighth-ranked Warriors seem to be the class of the Hockomock league, but the mystique of their unbeaten start has been shattered, and the Tigers are breathing down their necks.Ryan Hathaway can be reached at email@example.com.