At Masconomet, making a five-school girls’ hockey co-op work
Masconomet Regional is the host for a girls’ hockey co-op program that includes four other area schools north of Boston: Amesbury, Georgetown, Newburyport, and Triton Regional, encompassing nine municipalities.
So the task of building interest and forming a competitive program to compete at the Division 1 level in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association is more difficult than it looks.
The home base is Boxford. The home rink is Valley Forum in Haverhill, 15-plus miles away.
“We cover from Middleton up to the New Hampshire border along I-95,” said third-year Masco coach Ryan Sugar , who has directed a relatively young Chieftain squads to a 4-3-2 start after back-to-back appearances in the D1 state semifinals. Masco was 18-4-2 a year ago and was eliminated from the tournament by another co-op team, Methuen/Tewksbury, with a 4-2 loss.
“We only pulled 20 to 22 girls,” Sugar said. “We have small numbers, but we still want to bring players in.”
Masconomet, along with fellow hosts Medway (Ashland/Holliston/Millis) and Bourne (Mashpee/Wareham/Old Rochester), headline co-ops that field rosters utilizing three or more schools.
The co-ops provide opportunities for players from schools unable to field programs on their own. And while it certainly raises the competitive level, it certainly does not guarantee success, or a ticket to a title.
No girls’ co-op program has ever won an MIAA Division 1 or Division 2 championship, though Methuen-Tewksbury made a valiant run last March before falling to Woburn in the final.
And before Masco’s back-to-back trips to the semis, only two other teams, Methuen/Tewksbury (D2, 2013) and Winthrop/Lynn (D1, 2011) had advanced to the states semifinals in the past decade.
Logistically, piecing it all together — compiling a roster, communication, travel to practices and games — is a chore.
The Chieftains roster is made up mainly of players from Masco and Newburyport. There are two players from Amesbury, and one each from Georgetown and Triton (senior Anna Behringer , an assistant captain).
Behringer, who resides in Rowley, often carpools with the lone player from Georgetown, sophomore forward Erin Irons. The two have developed a strong friendship making the 30-minute journey to practice.
“A lot of our team bonding happens during car rides,” Behringer said. “I love playing with this group of girls. It makes it all worthwhile playing with friends.”
Behringer plays soccer and lacrosse at Triton. Her favorite sport? Hockey at Masconomet.
“I was really nervous coming into my first year,” she said. “Even though it’s not my school, I feel a sense of place with Masconomet.”
Medway/Ashland is joined by fellow Tri-Valley League programs Holliston and Millis with even numbers from all four schools. Bourne-Mashpee-Wareham-Old Rochester, referred to as BMWORR, is another.
Karl Infanger, in his first season at the helm in Medway, has introduced changes to the program with an emphasis on piquing interest at a younger age. None of the four towns in the co-op have a girls’ youth program.
“Getting involved in youth hockey and finding places for girls to play is vital,” said Infanger, a former boys’ assistant at Medway and Framingham State and head coach at Natick.
“Hockey is the greatest game in the world, and as a coach I want to see what’s coming up.”
Without proper development, Medway/Ashland has experienced mixed results, last making the state tournament in 2013 with an 11-7-3 record. Last year, the Mustangs missed the postseason with a 6-12-2 record.
One issue is communication.
A teacher in Medway, Infanger uses Hudl to analyze film along with his team captains to relay other information such as practice times at Pirelli Veterans’ Arena in Franklin or Blackstone Valley IcePlex in Hopedale.
“I rely on my captains a lot,” Infanger said.
“[Captains] Isabelle Jackson and Sophia Theodore send out group texts to all the girls, and I use e-mail to speak to the parents.”
The BMWORR program continues to grow since the addition of Old Rochester four years ago. Despite pulling from six towns and playing in an accessible location at Gallo Rink in Bourne, filling a roster remains a challenge.
“The most difficult part is finding which school is going to give you numbers,” Bourne coach Kristyn Alexander said. “We have 19 girls, and it grows every year.”
Growing youth programs across the towns have contributed to a spike in girls playing hockey. BMWORR has seen gradual improvement and posted a program-best 14-6-2 record last season.
“It gives these girls an opportunity to play on a high school team,” Alexander said.
“In the last four seasons, we’ve definitely seen a turnover with girls playing youth hockey. They start out at a younger age and continue to play in high school now that they have somewhere to play.”
■ Vicki Revanche, a junior at Canton High, had never stepped on the ice until this season. But with equipment supplied from coach Dennis Aldrich , she has embraced the challenge of learning to play goal in a reserve role for the Bulldogs (5-2-3).
“Just her sheer heart and compete level,” Aldrich said. “She’s been such a huge addition.”
Revanche, a goalie on the girls’ lacrosse team last spring and a member of the Canton football program last fall, has come a long way in a short time. Making her debut in a 9-0 win over Stoughton last week, Revanche made a crucial late save to preserve the shutout, resulting in an eruption from the Bulldogs bench.
“It was scary,” Revanche said. “I was afraid that I would let one in, but I remembered that I practiced really hard, then I can be the goalie I want to be. I didn’t expect so much support, and I really appreciate it.”
■ With a hat trick and an assist in a 6-2 win over Medfield, Archbishop Williams senior Mackenzie Heath of West Bridgewater reached 100 career points. “She has a lot of confidence in herself,” coach Mark McHale said. “She’s one of the best stickhandlers I’ve ever had [at Archbishop Williams].”
Heath joins Erin Dwyer (2009-2013) and Katie Barry (2010-2014) as the three players to reach the century mark in the last 10 years at Archbishop Williams. Dwyer went on to play at St. Michael’s and Barry at UMass Boston.
“She’s done a great job,” McHale said of Heath. “She’s a leader out there.”
Games to watch
Wednesday, Duxbury at Canton (at Canton IceHouse, 5:30 p.m.) — The Bulldogs earned a hard-fought tie with Westwood but need to get back in the win column against a tough Dragons team.
Saturday, Archbishop Williams at St. Mary’s (at Connery Rink, 4:30 p.m.) — Two Catholic Central foes look to gain a spot in a tight race.
Saturday & Sunday, 19th Nan Rheault Tournament (at Martha’s Vineyard Arena) — The tourney hosted by the Vineyarders features Dover-Sherborn, Scituate, and Bourne.
Monday, Shrewsbury at Austin Prep (at Stoneham Arena, 10 a.m.) — The top-ranked Cougars host the Colonials in what potentially could be a preview of the D1 final.
Monday, Walpole at Wellesley (at Babson Rink, 3:40 p.m.) — In a game that was rescheduled from earlier this month, the two Bay State rivals collide with both clinging to a Top 20 spot.