WILMINGTON – Heading into the new statewide tournament, Wilmington High School Field Hockey coach Leanne Ebert knew that things would be a tad bit different this year. But when she got some news on Tuesday about the team's first round opponent, she was really surprised.
Bishop Stang (located in North Dartmouth) plays on grass (actually their high school fields are in the middle of renovation to get turf fields).
So come Sunday afternoon at 1 pm, Ebert and the Wildcats will board the bus for about a 90-minute drive to take on Bishop Stang, the same athletic program that eliminated the Wildcats Baseball squad in the Eastern Mass Final back in 1998.
“We're going to have to change our thinking a little bit. We're going to move some nets and make sure that we're practicing on grass these next few days,” said Ebert. “I'm glad we know about that now and we can prepare for it, rather than not know and not be prepared. We're going to have to change some things around, especially on corners. Some of the corner plays that we run are a little too complex to use on grass, so like I said to them before the season started, we're going to have to back to the basics and re-learn some things.
“When I played on grass fields, there wasn't a lot of ball control. You get the ball, you look for an open space and you moved the ball to that space and that's how you moved it up the field. You didn't necessarily drive with the ball up the field yourself. You really also couldn't do all of those fancy moves without the ball control, so in practice we'll be working a lot on our one-touch skills and do drills to practice moving the ball up the field quickly.”
While there's the obvious difference between the two schools that one plays on turf and the other plays on grass, there's actually a lot of similarities between the two. Both teams are coached by former players, who both graduated in 1992 with Ebert starring at WHS and third-year coach Kara LeBlanc Caron, coming back after her strong career with the Spartans.
Also both programs have rich traditions. Stang has 13 conference champions, the last coming in 2017, while they have won four-sectional titles (last being in 1983), were sectional finalists back in 2008 and also were state champions in 1983 and lost in the state final two other times.
Wilmington has won league titles 16 times, the last being in 1996, and under former Hall of Fame Coach Jan Cassidy Wood, advanced to the state final and sectional final one time each.
“The girls are excited about the tournament, but (during Tuesday's practice) it was like 'where are we going'?”
Should Wilmington prevail, they will get either No. 3 Pentucket (16-1-1) or No. 30 Norwell (10-5-3)/No. 35 Belchertown (10-3-4) most likely on Tuesday or Wednesday. If it's against Pentucket, the 'Cats will travel, but would host if the Sachems are defeated.
This past week Wilmington ended its regular season with a 6-0 loss to Watertown and then a 3-1 win over Melrose.
“I was really proud of the way the kids played against Watertown. The girls played hard, they played strong and I know the end score was 6-0, but when these girls are faced with a challenge, they rise to the occasion. They played great that day. In years past, Watertown would get like 20 plus corners on us and I think we kept them to 12, so that was a good game for us,” said Ebert.
Then came the Melrose game and the 'Cats were down 1-0 at the break.
“Sometimes it can be hard to come back and we did by scoring three goals in the second half. That was a good win because when we were in Melrose, we tied them. They were able to turn it around, pull it all together to get the win, instead of sitting there all sorry for themselves,” she said.
Rita Roche scored two goals in the win, giving her 13 on the season, while teammate Sonny Rebeiro added the third goal of the game, which was also her first of the season.