WOBURN — With each passing day, after the Woburn High girls’ hockey team clinched a spot in the MIAA Div. 1 state final, it became increasingly apparent the game with Austin Prep was unlikely to happen, due to the precautions being made in response to the worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. So when the MIAA Board of Directors’ decision not to play was announced, Thursday afternoon, and that both Woburn and Austin Prep would be declared co-champions, the Tanners were disappointed, but not shocked.
“I think the MIAA made the right decision; I don’t think the games should have been played on Sunday,” said Woburn coach Steve Kennedy, who would have been a head coach in the finals for the first time with the Tanners. “How things get handled from there can certainly be debated. Co-champs or no champs, either way, I think people can have their opinion on that.”
Woburn had been on a mission for more than three months, diligently working most every day for the opportunity it had going into this past weekend, so the disappointment was real for the players and coaches.
“What’s difficult about the situation is you’ve got 15 players who are really competitive, who work really hard and who want to see their season extend as long and as far as possible,” said Kennedy. “When you win in the semifinals, the uncertainty around when your season could end goes away; you know how many practices you have left and you know when and where your final game will be.
“It’s a real privilege and it’s really hard to get there,” he added. “In a very short time we switched into the mindset and then back out as uncertainty arose. Add into the equation the opportunity to play in the Garden, to face a really formidable opponent, to try and win a state championship, and you have kids who are naturally disappointed.”
The Tanners, the fourth seed in Div. 1, finish the season with a 19-2-2 record, the Cougars finished 21-1-2.
“Over the last few days, we have heard from a number of coaches, and individuals throughout the hockey world congratulating us and saying we were deserving of being state co-champions,” said Kennedy. “I agree. I feel that our girls are absolutely deserving of that title.”
While Austin Prep had the higher seed and the slightly better record, Woburn was heading into the final with the hottest goalie in the tournament in senior Amanda Essigmann, who had allowed just one goal in four tournament games, and was set to make her second start in the final (she was the backup in 2017) after posting a shutout at the TD Garden in the 2018, against Methuen/Tewksbury.
The Tanners also had one of the most dynamic players in the state on offense with freshman Angelina DiGirolamo, who racked up 43 goals this season, including all four of her team’s goals in Woburn’s two previous tournament victories.
“The girls were ready to go,” said Kennedy. “They have grown up together, many of them took their first strides together, on Woburn ice, wearing Woburn colors, and they were excited for the opportunity to represent their community, one last time, together as a team. Given the unprecedented circumstances and situation that we are facing, though, I think this is the way it has to, and should be.”
With or without the final, Woburn had a most remarkable season. It was one that began with all sorts of intrigue, not only around the talented young twins, Angelina and Lucia DiGirolamo, but also the innovative transformation of the defense. The team moved two of last year’s first-line scorers, Jackie Lees and Lily Anderson, back to be the top pairing on defense.
The Tanners started out strong and got even better as the season progressed, sharing the Middlesex League Liberty title with Arlington, which lost in the Div. 1 quarterfinals to Braintree.
“The experience of this season in its entirety has been remarkable,” said Kennedy. “The leadership of the seniors set the tone, the team gelled and developed a chemistry that made them want to play for each other. They had a lot of fun together on and off the ice, and those are the memories and accomplishments that really matter.”
Woburn had the potential to return its entire offense for next year, but the DiGirolamo twins are now expected to be headed out of town to reportedly Selects Academy in Rochester, NY.
The defense will again have to be reconstructed with the coming graduation of Lees and the third member of the defensive trio, Erin McComiskey. Alyssa Wackrow, a sophomore this year, is expected to be the new Tanner goalie.