The Town Crier started a new series, republishing or writing stories on WHS Fall Athletic teams – minus football – that won championships or enjoyed deep state tournament runs. Last week, the 2000 WHS Golf team was featured and this week it's the 1980 Field Hockey team which lost in the North Finals (no divisions back then).
WILMINGTON — Before 1980, the Wilmington High School Field Hockey team enjoyed tremendous success from 1970-'79 with five Merrimack Valley Conference Championship titles (six first place finishes) and four state tournament appearances (no tourney in 1971).
Then came the 1980 season — arguably the best team in program history, and certainly as coach Jan Cassidy Wood says, the "most fun team she's ever had."
Only four WHS Field Hockey teams — just one by Cassidy-Wood's teams — are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, collectively the 1935-37 teams were inducted as one group and then the '80 team. Blessed with tremendous talent led by Olympian Megan Donnelly, as well as fellow Hall of Famer Paula Burns, and a "cast of characters", who certainly could all play, the Wildcats finished 15-1-1 that season. The magical season included a 3-1 mark in the state tournament, losing in the North Sectional Finals (no divisions back then) to Weston, 2-0.
"It was the most fun season although it's hard to explain," said Cassidy-Wood, who compiled a record of 190-29-35 from 1970 to 1988 and an overall record of 233-43-52 with 10 league titles. "It was also the most unexpected results. We were unbeaten at 12-0-1, they played three or four games in the state tournament and ended up losing to Weston in the North Finals. I remember it was on November 11th the (Veterans Day) Holiday, so it was one of the first times that all of the parents could come and see the girls play. It was quite a thrill.
"That was probably the most fun team that I ever had. They were crazy. There were only five seniors and I think four of them were starters.”
Certainly the juniors on this team had a lot of talent between Donnelly, Burns, Karen Evans, Kathy Schultz and MaryBeth Gentile, but the senior class really were instrumental in making the team bond off the field, as well as play so well together on it.
“The captain was Sharon Zwicker. She was our sweeper and unlike other teams who would usually have that big back with the big drive, she was this little wiry thing, but boy was she good,” said Cassidy-Wood. “She did this thing that I had never seen before nor have I seen it since — she could air dribble. She could take the ball on the stick and bounce it off of it a couple of times without it touching the ground, but it also had to be legal, keeping the stick below the waist and the ball never came up over her waist. She just had incredible skill. She was really good at that and she was the captain.
“Her two best buddies were Janelle Fitch and MaryAnn Campbell and they were three of the seniors and I considered them the Three Stooges combined with the Three Musketeers. They were crazy funny and just always got the rest of the team going. Then we had Lisa Madden who was another senior and her sanity helped keep the team together. She was just a bright, sensible young lady so she had to contain these wild ones a little bit, but not much. The girls were just silly all of the time, especially in practice. Oh gosh, those girls were so much fun. When the whistle blew to start the games, they were very aggressive, especially Janelle and Maryanne on the forward line.”
Janelle (Fitch) Vaal, who certainly could put the ball in the net, said looking back at the 40th anniversary of this special season, she remembers the incredible bond that she had with all of her teammates.
“I think what made our team so special was that we were friends on and off the field,” she said. “The team had an abundance of personality and character and we had a special bond. Our positive attitudes, spirit, unselfishness and teamwork were the ingredients for our success. Every player was vital in their contribution with their own unique style and talent.”
The Wildcats exploded out of the gate with an 9-0-1 record over their first ten games. In that time, Wilmington outscored opponents 34-4, which included a 5-1 win over Andover and a 3-0 win over a talented Methuen team, which was predicted to finish first in the league.
“Our offensive style was fearlessly aggressive and our defense was the best in the division led by our team captain (Zwicker), and it helped that our goalie (Gentile) was superb,” said Vaal. “During the regular season our toughest opponent was Chelmsford. They would double team the front line, leaving the game scoreless and would end up in a tie.”
That was the only blemish on the team's record during the regular season. When the 'Cats clinched the MVC East League title with the 10-0-1 mark, at that time, Vaal led the team with 10 goals and 6 assists, followed by Lisa Madden (8-3-11), Campbell, Donnelly and Burns with 8 points each.
Wilmington entered the state tournament with a 12-0-1 record. Up first was Lincoln-Sudbury and this was a gritty, battle which went to double overtime with the 'Cats prevailing in the stroke-off, to win 2-1.
“It was the most nail biting experience ever. We ended up in a heap of bodies after our hard-won victory,” said Vaal, whose two brothers Paul and Gordie Fitch are in the Hall of Fame.
Wilmington then defeated Newburyport (2-0) and Danvers (1-0) which put them into the North Final against Weston, which was played in Littleton. The game was scoreless until the final three minutes when Weston's Cindy Healey scored two goals for the 2-0 victory.
“Although the state game against Weston was extremely chilly, I can not remember feeling the cold,” said Vaal. “I do believe we outplayed Weston, they didn't have a shot on goal the whole first half. The second half was winding down, the first goal of the game came against us with three minutes left to play. I remember thinking and saying we are still in this. Then our fate was sealed with another goal against us with a minute left to play. The last lousy three minutes of the game halted a season of hard work.”
That game ended the team's season with a remarkable record of 15-1-1, while being one of the top teams in the entire state.
The 1980 WHS team included: Lisa Madden, Sharon Zwicker, Janelle Fitch, Marianne Campbell, Jean Lanni, Pam McFarland, Karen Evans, Paula Rossi, Megan Donnelly, Paula Burns, Robin Parsons, Caramia Capadonna, Cathy Schultz, Anne Ryan and MaryBeth Gentile with coaches Jan Cassidy-Wood and her longtime assistant Jan Urquhart, both are also in the Hall of Fame.
“Coach Cassidy was no slouch,” said Fitch. “Her knowledge of the game was impeccable and well respected. She would let us have fun but we knew when it was time to 'get down to business'. We always looked forward to halftime when she would pull out her bags of oranges that she supplied to us every game. I was extremely fortunate to have the pleasure of being a part of such an amazing group of ladies that I called my teammates.”
The Wildcats continue to have tremendous success throughout the 80’s decade and we will visit those seasons in future editions.