METHUEN/TEWKSBURY – Usually it takes teams a few weeks before they can get into the X's and O's because you hold tryouts, you get everyone situated, and you have new players who need to learn the tricks of the trade.
But for the Tewksbury/Methuen Co-Op Girls Hockey team, head coach Sarah Doucette (she got married since last season's end), she said this year's team is already ahead of that curve.
“This year is positive because all of our players have been on the team before. It was clear right from the start everyone understood our systems, practice plans, culture, and more. We were able to quickly jump into a lot of the fundamentals that often take a few weeks to work on. We know our league will arguably be the hardest in the state, so we want to be as prepared as possible,” she said.
Indeed it will be.
In the latest Hockey Night in Boston Division 1 state poll, four of the top ten teams come from the Merrimack Valley Conference including No. 6 Billerica, newly joined No. 7 Shrewsbury, Tewksbury/Methuen at No. 9 and Acton-Boxboro at No. 10. In Division 2, Andover is ranked No. 2.
On top of that, the reigning MVC Division 1 champs Billerica/Chelmsford squad should be very competitive, as should Westford Academy but it may take them some time after not playing all of last year.
All in all the Red Rangers will face AB, Westford, Billerica/Chelmsford, Haverhill, Shrewsbury, Andover twice each and then Central Catholic, Lincoln-Sudbury and Waltham one time each, and then non-leaguers with Framingham, Masconomet and Beverly/Danvers.
“We know many of the teams in our league will have a lot of talent, experience, and depth. As always we are looking forward to playing HPNA as they are a solid, competitive program very similar to our own. Andover will be a top team with a lot of depth and skill. Last year we didn't play AB or Westford Academy so we are looking forward to experiencing tough competition from the DCL again. Shrewsbury is a huge co-op program and will be a battle,” said Doucette.
At the time of the interview, Doucette said that her forward lines and defensive pairings were not set in stone, mostly because the team was hit with the injury bug as four players have been present for on the ice practices. Assuming those players get healthy, upfront the team will once again be led by senior captain Jessica Driscoll, who enters this season as one of the top forwards in the area with her lethal shot, and who has 74 career points.
“Jessica will lead us on offense with her drive to score. She has been working well with some of her younger teammates in order to create offense,” said Doucette.
Driscoll will be joined by senior Kylie Windsor, juniors Jamie Constantino, Riley Sheehan and Nikole Gosse, sophomores Ava Duffy, Emma Giordano, Emma Ryan and Kat Schille and then freshman Breena Lawrence.
On defense will be junior Hannah Forget with sophomores Jayden Marsh and Lexi Ford as well as freshmen Livia Lawrence, Sarah Doherty and MT Petisce.
“Unfortunately we have about four girls out with injuries right now so we have had to change and adapt constantly. I am hoping that facing this adversity so early in the season will help our team become stronger and prepare for a full season,” said Doucette. “The players have done a great job bringing energy to practice when we have low numbers. We have really been focusing more on skill development rather than our lines.”
Michelle Kusmaul returns in net and she had a terrific season last year, and freshman Asche Wogan is once again her back-up.
“We will need Michelle to be a strong presence in net. When she is playing at the top of her game she gives all her teammates confidence and we know she is going to make many tremendous saves every night. She really wants to perform well and is a competitor so we know she will give us her best,” said the coach.
The Red Rangers opened the season on Wednesday against Acton-Boxboro with results not known as of presstime before staying on the road to face Westford on Saturday. The home opener will be on December 22nd against Billerica/Chelmsford at 5 pm.