Top seed Austin Prep (20-0-0) headlines a strong 27-team field for the MIAA Division 1 girls’ hockey tournament, with each of the top six seeds entering with two losses or fewer.
Austin Prep has held the top spot in the Globe’s Top 20 all season. By outscoring opponents, 103-8, during the regular season, the Cougars have found success by approaching the season one game at a time.
“Been doing this too long to know that once you hit the postseason it’s a brand-new season,” said Austin Prep coach Stephanie Wood. “We know every opponent is going to be a challenging game in the postseason. We just run our team, and wherever the chips fall, they fall.”
The Cougars are one of two unbeatens topping the field, along with Patriot League champion Duxbury (19-0-2). The Dragons are led by a core of 10 seniors, including goaltenders Erin Matthews and Sue Bird, who have split time throughout the season and have allowed a combined 29 goals.
“The camaraderie between the seniors has been great,” said Duxbury coach Paul Reissfelder.
“I think that they want it more than ever this year because they’re seniors, and they deserve it.”
Among the best remaining teams, each of the top 16 seeds spent time in the Globe Top 20 during the regular season. Braintree (15-4-1) earned the 8th seed without a senior on its roster. The Wamps have been led by juniors Abby Holland and Allie DeCoste, who have combined for 70 points this season.
After falling in the quarterfinals last year, coach Kevin Burchill’s goal is simple: improve on last season’s results by advancing to the semis.
“They’ve got to all look at each other and say, ‘We’re a family here,’ ” said Burchill. “They’ve got to work hard together. Some of the girls who went through it last year, they know what I want, they know what they want.”
Rebounding from an 9-9-3 record and a first-round exit as an 18th seed last year, top seed Walpole (16-3-1) enters the tournament coming off the best season in program history .
“It was a great turnaround,” coach Joe Verderber said. “The top seed, that’s what you strive for. We can’t slide under the radar like we did last year, and now we’ve got to show up.”
The Rebels’ three losses are all to Division 1 opponents — Bay State Conference foes Needham, and Braintree twice — and they posted a 5-0 record against Division 2 foes Canton, King Philip (2), NDA-Hingham, Wellesley. While it was a season filled with mostly positives, the Rebels struggled with discipline and averaged more than 10 penalty minutes per game.
“Typically because we are aggressive we’re going to draw penalties,” said Verderber. “We have a very good penalty kill, but we need to stay out of the box.”
Defending champion and Bay State Conference foe Wellesley poses the biggest threat to Walpole.
The Raiders (13-4-3) slipped to the fifth seed after a season-ending loss to Austin Prep, but became the first team to score multiple goals against the top team in Division 1.
“We still consider ourselves to be a contender and we hope to be there,” said Wellesley coach PT Donato. “Just as long as we play our style of hockey, we’re going to have success.”
Among the other top teams are second seeded and Atlantic Coast League champion Dennis-Yarmouth (16-4), Tri-Valley champion Westwood (13-2-5) at No. 3, and 6-seed and SEMGHL champion Bishop Stang (13-5-2), which earned its first tournament berth.