Kelsey Hatt and the Natick girls’ soccer team had an exhilarating run in the state tournament last fall. The Redhawks hit the road for five straight postseason victories before coming within penalty kicks of a Division 1 state championship.
It was an experience the Redhawks will now look to replicate with one key difference – the storybook ending – as they turn their attention from what they gained in their respective club soccer experiences in the winter, spring and summer to the high school season that begins this week.
The Redhawks hope they were able to foreshadow some of those winning ways last Saturday at Medway High as they celebrated a victory in penalty kicks against defending EMass Division 2 champion Winchester in the inaugural Coaches Shield scrimmage.
While it was a familiar sense of school pride for Hatt and fellow co-captain Laney Ross and the rest of the returning Redhawks, it was something new for Natick junior Emily Bubonovich. She had played strictly club soccer as a freshman and sophomore before deciding to join her classmates on the pitch this year.
“After seeing how well Natick did last year, I just wanted to be part of that,” said Bubonovich, who played for FC Stars this summer after playing for the club’s development academy (DA) program previously.
“I am really excited to play with a lot of these people again because I haven’t played with them since eighth grade – or younger. (Club) and doing college camps, you are definitely more prepared and on your toes coming into the fall. You are in shape. Coming into high school season, you can really just get used to your teammates and playing with each other.”
On Saturday, three fields were packed for 10 hours of soccer in Medway as a number of the top programs in the state played two scrimmages in the seventh annual jamboree. The four defending Eastern Mass. champions – Natick, Winchester, Norwell and Millis – were there, along with the hosts, Abington, Acton-Boxboro, Archbishop Williams, Arlington, Billerica, Bishop Feehan, Dover-Sherborn, Foxboro, Franklin, Hopkinton, Hull, King Philip, Masconomet, Medfield, Middleboro, North Middlesex, Sandwich, Sharon, Silver Lake, Wakefield, Westfield, Westwood, Weymouth, Wilmington and Woburn.
King Philip senior Avery Snead, a returning Globe All-Scholastic, has played for the Scorpions Elite Club National League team the past two years. She’s eager to be an anchor for a KP squad that followed up its D1 South title in 2017 with a 12-5-2 campaign last fall.
Having committed to playing at Providence College, she said enjoys the benefits from both the club aspect of the game, as well as taking the field with her high school teammates.
“High school is more of an experience,” she said. “It’s good because it’s soccer every day. I’ve been with these girls since I was younger so we know how each other plays. Club is tactical, working on our skills, and working on your positioning. I bring a lot of my club knowledge to high school, which helps a lot.”
Returning Globe All-Scholastic Alexi Vaillancourt, who helped lead Millis to the Division 4 state championship last fall, said she credits her club experience with the Scorpions for helping build that ultra-competitive mind-set that she tries to take back with her to the Mohawks.
“One thing you see with club is that everyone is playing super hard,” she said. “Going hard, being tough. For high school, I want to bring that. You’re playing for your school, so I feel like there is a push to want to win and want do well.”
Ross, who went to nationals in Colorado this summer with her FC Stars club team, allows there is a balance that needs to be struck when transferring that club mentality to a school program where not every player is quite on the same level.
“You are playing against the best competition in the country,” she said. “You are expected not to make a mistake. That carries over to high school because us, having that experience, we can hold our teammates to a higher expectation level. But then here we understand that fun aspect of it as well, so we’re not going to be screaming at them if they make a mistake.”
As Natick looks to rekindle some of last season’s magic, Hatt said the Redhawks are doing it with a sense of purpose that comes from feeling a town get behind them for what they hope will be another long and wonderful journey this fall.
“You put your heart into it,” Hatt said. “You want to win for your school. But you also want to win for each other.”
Games to Watch
Wednesday, Hanover at No. 4 Norwell, 7 p.m. – It’s a rematch of last year’s D3 South final as the Clippers host the Indians to begin their title defense.
Thursday, No. 3 Winchester at Watertown, 3:45 p.m. – The defending Division 2 state champion Sachems are hoping to pick up where they left off last season against the Raiders.
Thursday, No. 16 Millis at Dover-Sherborn, 3:30 p.m. – Winners of back-to-back Division 4 State championships, the Mohawks continue their quest for a three-peat on the road against D-S.
Friday, Foxborough at No. 17 Mansfield, 3:30 p.m. – After a heartbreaking overtime loss in the D1 South semifinals last year, the Hornets will look to bounce back in their first game of the season against Mansfield.
Saturday, Marshfield at No. 18 Weymouth, 4 p.m. – The Rams and Wildcats, two of the top teams in the state, clash on the opening weekend.
Globe Top 20
The Globe poll as of Sept. 1, 2019. Teams were selected by the Globe sports staff.
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Ethan Nash also contributed. Scott Souza can be reached at ScottSouza@journalist.com.