Paige Gillette is willing to admit it.
When she put on goalie pads (that were, of course, borrowed from another netminder) for the first time during a summer game last year, she had no idea what she was doing. The scoreboard reflected it too – Gillette remembered allowing six goals at one captain’s practice.
But the Andover junior pushed on, and the timing couldn’t have been better. Go-to goalie Allie Gasperoni had undergone off-season knee surgery, so her spot was open as the now-senior worked her way back into the lineup. Backup Chiara Holton, who graduated last year, gave Gillette the pads, and Gasperoni provided the coaching.
“Chiara started the first game, and then I came in,” said Gillette, who was previously on the opposite end of the field as a forward. “She wasn’t mad. She gave me so many pointers. I was clueless. She told me how to kick, she gave me some of her old equipment. And Allie, when she was injured, she would stand behind the net when I was learning stuff, and she would tell me how to fix it.”
All three worked to get Andover to the D1 North final last year, and now a healthy Gasperoni and a seasoned Gillette return for the Warriors as a dual threat between the posts.
“[Gillette] is super athletic and quick,” said Andover coach Maureen Noone. “[Gasperoni] puts a lot of time in in the offseason, she knows the game. She knows the skill level. So the combination of the two of them is a unique place. A lot of people struggle, and a goalie is so important.”
Like Gillette, Gasperoni is fairly new to the bulky pads, but not to the pressure that comes with backstopping a title-contending team. She grew up playing goalkeeper for soccer and came to the Golden Warriors’ field hockey team after being cut during her freshman year.
Noone said the talent that each of her goalkeepers presents puts her in a situation that she hasn’t really ever been in before – in the past, she has relied on one goalkeeper to lead the team through the season, but this year, she sees the possibility of a true split in time in goal.
“I’m just really excited for the season,” Gasperoni said. “We have a lot of potential. Playing with Paige, we’re both pushing each other to work harder and improve more.”
Last year’s goalie trio was one of Andover’s secrets to success, and the duo in net this year is setting the Golden Warriors up for a similar run. They’re proof that a strong netminder can result in long-term success, and luckily, for several teams this season, that position is already filled.
Central Catholic returns senior Meg Ferris, a Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star. Watertown’s Lainey Andrade, a junior, gained valuable postseason experience during the Raiders’ run to the D2 North title.
In Winchester, Brooke Ross will suit up as one of just two seniors on the team. The Holy Cross commit is relishing her role as a leader between the pipes and away from the field as the Sachems continue to grow. Winchester had its best season in program history in 2017, falling in the D1 North title game, and fell in the first round last year (12-5-2).
“Having a strong backfield and goalie, it’s really important,” Ross said. “My principal says to me before every game as I’m walking out the door, ‘If they can’t score, you can’t lose.’ It’s one of the reasons that I chose playing goalie. I like feeling that I have an important role on the field and that I’m the only one who could do my job the way I can.”
From her new vantage point in the backfield, Gillette recognizes the importance of her goalie and the difference one can make in a way that she couldn’t before.
“I didn’t appreciate [the goalie] as much when I was a forward,” Gillette said. “Even if your team is winning by a lot, or there’s no shots or anything on the goal, the goalie is being loud, communicating with the team and telling them what they can’t see.”
■ The Boston Red Sox are hosting their first Field Hockey Night Thursday during the game against Minnesota, slated for 7:10 p.m. Specially priced tickets are available through USA Field Hockey.
■ King Philip grad Alli Meehan, who was the Hockomock League’s leading scorer last season, was named the Colonial Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week after netting winners in both of Northeastern’s weekend games.
King Philip is on its third coach in three seasons after co-coaches Kim Meehan and Kim McDonald stepped down. Lisa Cropper has returned to the Hockomock League, where she was the head coach at Franklin for eight years. Cropper left Franklin in 2017 to lead the program at Dean College.
“It’s a whole new school and program to get used to,” Cropper said. “If I went in first, second year, third year, I’d be a lot more nervous and uncomfortable. Going in this year after all that I’ve seen and been through, it makes it a lot easier. I look forward to it as a challenge.”
■ Kayla McGaffigan, a Globe All-Scholastic who led the Atlantic Coast League in scoring as a freshman (35 goals, 13 assists) as Dennis-Yarmouth captured a state title, transferred to Tabor Academy, along with her twin sister, Ava, who also played field hockey.
■ Watertown coach Eileen Donahue, who is in her 33rd season, will be inducted into the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame later this year.
“I was very humbled by that,” Donahue said. “That was very kind of them.”
Donahue has amassed 18 D2 state titles, 25 D2 North titles, and 28 Middlesex League titles while putting together a 662-32-46 record.
“She’s an extraordinary coach,” said Walpole coach Jen Quinn. “She just gets everything out of every kid. She’s extraordinary.”
Games to Watch
Thursday, Lynnfield at No. 4 Masconomet, 3:45 p.m. — The Cape Ann League opponents both went deep into their respective postseason tournaments, with the visiting Pioneers reaching the D2 North semifinal and Masconomet claiming a D1 North title. How will this talent translate to 2019?
Monday, No. 11 Franklin at No. 6 King Philip, 3:45 p.m. — King Philip coach Lisa Cropper opens the season with a Hockomock League contest against the program she called home for eight seasons.
Monday, No. 12 Canton at No. 18 Foxborough, 3:45 p.m. — Both of these Hockomock League teams reached the quarterfinals in their respective brackets last season, but graduated top scorers. Will these programs be able to recover?
Tuesday, No. 7 Walpole at Needham, 3:45 p.m. In a rematch of last year’s D1 South quarterfinal that saw Walpole capture a 2-1 victory, the Porkers will hit the road for their second game of the season.
Wednesday, No. 3 Watertown at No. 9 Lexington, 4 p.m. — Two perennially strong programs in the North face off in an early season non-league matchup.
Jenna Ciccotelli can be reached at email@example.com.