In a town well known for its vaunted girls’ lacrosse program, it would be easy for field hockey to serve a simple purpose: offseason conditioning for those student-athletes at Westwood High who anxiously await the upcoming spring.
That is what Heather Joyce discovered when she took over the Westwood field hockey program in 2016. The Wolverines had not qualified for the MIAA tournament since 2013 — when the ninth-seeded field hockey squad exited in the first round. The girls’ lacrosse team, meanwhile, was undefeated for the second year in a row, and claimed the Division 1 state title that next spring.
Joyce, a UMass Dartmouth field hockey alumna (class of 2015) who began teaching social studies at Westwood the fall after graduating college, was eager to help Westwood develop into a perennial contender, just like its spring counterpart.
Slowly but surely, it’s happening. In Joyce’s first season at the helm, 2016, Westwood missed the tournament by one point. Now, the Wolverines (13-0-1) have the best record in EMass, and have qualified for postseason play for the third straight year.
“When we missed the tournament by one point, I think that was the first time that the kids started realizing that we can take field hockey seriously and we can be competitive,” Joyce said. “We’re chipping away at it, year by year.”
Hannah Blomquist is a testament to the change in culture. She picked up a field hockey stick for the first time as an eighth-grader in Westwood’s middle school program, and then made the varsity team as a freshman. Now, as a junior, Blomquist is a captain and plays year-round as a member of Lead the Way Field Hockey.
“I didn’t really know much about the program [before playing],” Blomquist said. “But now I decided that [field hockey] was something that I wanted to pursue.”
Blomquist and her fellow captains, seniors Elizabeth Watson and Celia Mastromattei , agree that there is some unspoken pressure to stay undefeated. But that’s secondary to the Wolverines’ real goals, which will be accomplished in the same way as the team’s transformation into an annual postseason contender — bit by bit.
“Having something that motivates us makes us play to the best of our potential,” said Blomquist, a midfielder.
Good thing there’s no shortage of motivators for this Westwood team.
First, there’s a Tri-Valley League title. New entrant Norwood edged Westwood by a point in the TVL race last year. This fall, Westwood, at 10-0-1, has a five-point lead over the Mustangs.
Then there is the tournament.
In 2017, Westwood made a quick exit in the D1 South tourney. Last season, after receiving a bye, the Wolverines lost to Needham, 2-1, in overtime. A rematch on Sept. 23 resulted in a 1-1 draw.
“That game was almost like playoffs last year,” said Watson, a forward who captained the JV squad as a sophomore before joining varsity as a junior. “The energy was so high. Everyone wants it so bad. It’s a great big motivation for us this season, to get through and win one more game than we have in the past.”
After graduating six starters from that 2018 team that went 13-3-2 in the regular season, Westwood returns a team that is as tight on the field as they are off. Team bonding is a major focus for the tri-captains, who feel that the movie nights, pasta dinners, and other regularly-scheduled events are the key to the success they are seeing this year.
“It’s one of the most important things for a team,” Mastromattei said. “We’ve seen that the more everyone is comfortable with each other, the better the team is all together. Being able to talk to each other and communicate non-stop is a key component in field hockey, and you’ve got to be able to get along to do that.”
For this year’s Wolverines, reaching these goals means more than extending their season and earning a title. It’s a chance to fully cement the winning culture Westwood field hockey has embraced.
“That’s a goal, as a leader,” Mastromattei said. “You want to really help the younger kids and set a good mark on what you want the program to look like in the future, and help them get there.
“We want to show the TVL and everyone that we’re here to win it. We’re not going to stop until we get what we want.”
■ Revere picked up its seventh win of the season Saturday, 1-0 against Peabody, to become the first team in program history to record seven wins in a season. At 7-2-1, the Patriots are a single point away from qualifying for the tournament for the first time in 31 seasons.
■ North Reading handed Manchester-Essex its first loss of the season Thursday, 2-0, snapping a Cape Ann League winning streak for the Hornets that extended 79 games (67-0-12), dating to 2014. Junior Morgan Majeski scored one goal and set up the other for North Reading (4-5-1).
Games to watch
Revere at Malden, Thursday, 6 p.m. — The visiting Patriots (7-2-1) are one point shy of qualifying for their first postseason tournament in 31 seasons. Revere has already defeated host Malden, their Greater Boston League opponent, twice this season.
Belmont at Lexington, Friday, 3:30 p.m. — Two Globe top 20 teams battle it out in a chase for the Middlesex League title.
Beverly at Central Catholic, Friday, 7:30 p.m. — The visiting Panthers are unbeaten (1-0-3) in their last four games. Can they ride this hot streak north to Lawrence, where the Raiders are 2-1-1 in the same stretch?
Cohasset at Acton-Boxborough, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. — The undefeated Colonials host the Clippers in a tough nonleague matchup.
Dover-Sherborn at Westwood, Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. — Two teams that are unbeaten in Tri-Valley League play, but after this pair faces off for the only team this season, only one will be left.
Jenna Ciccotelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.