Walpole field hockey reloads for title run
Katie Kelley stood between the large pipes of the net last season, equipped with her electric blue pads and her Walpole High School field hockey jersey, confident behind a defensive wall of experienced seniors.
This season, with the graduation of the entire back line, senior cocaptain Kelley and the rest of her Porker teammates had to make major adjustments on the field for a program steeped in tradition.
Although 10 seniors departed, including seven starters, Walpole won its first 11 games, reloading rather than rebuilding.
“Just because we’re younger and less experienced doesn’t mean we lack passion,’’ said the 5-foot-3 Kelley. “It’s more like hard work and dedication that has to do with it rather than the skill aspect.’’
Kelley, who allowed just two goals against Natick and Newton North in the first 11 games, sports a gaudy .18 goals-against average.
She said the transition was difficult at first, but she’s adjusting.
“In the years past we’ve had a lot of experienced players,’’ said Kelley. “The starting line usually consists of seniors. This year we have a lot of sophomores, juniors, and a few seniors.’’
Senior cocaptain Meghan Murphy, a central midfielder who has committed to playing at Georgetown next season, said, “We’ve needed time to jell together. It’s been hard getting used to new players. Communicating is a huge thing.’’
Kelley was worried at the beginning, “a little nervous, but I believed in them,’’ she said. “They were working hard and they earned the spot.’’
After 11 wins, she said, “I have a lot of confidence in them.’’
With a sophomore- and junior-laden team, coach Marianne Murphy has leaned on her captains for leadership.
“Katie is the goalie who speaks from behind for defense,’’ said the coach.
“She’ll tell them if they’re not marking up or not doing something right, showing vocal leadership. Meghan leads by example most of the time. At center mid she’s an excellent defender with excellent stick skills,’’ she said of her niece.
Sophomore forward Brooke Matherson leads the attack.
“I was surprised last year when I made varsity, usually freshmen don’t make it,’’ she said. “With the seniors gone I knew I had to step it up this year.
“Playing last year made a huge difference. It gave me the experience. Now this year I just feel so much more confident.’’
She has put that confidence on display, using her speed and stick skills to blow by defenders for 16 goals while assisting on seven others.
Kelley said although Matherson is only a sophomore, she is experienced.
“Brooke doesn’t feel bad not passing. She has more confidence in her shot this year. She’s not the youngest on the field anymore,’’ she said.
Coach Murphy said Matherson “brings a lot of composure on the field. The girls are comfortable reading each other and moving around.’’
A starter on the varsity girls’ hockey team last winter, Matherson brings some of those skills to the field.
“She has one of the best wrist shots I’ve ever seen,’’ said sophomore Caroline Feeley. “We have corners designed just for her wrist shot.’’
Like Matherson, Feeley made the varsity her freshman year, but has seen a major change this year.
“Last year I played offense,’’ she said. “This year they needed someone to fill in and play defense and coach asked me to try it.
“At first it was a tough transition but it’s getting easier with practice. I get help from Katie. She’ll direct us and tell us when to mark up and what kind of defense we should be playing.’’
Murphy said the team bond has been the biggest difference this year, “creating a relationship off the field. We’re so much closer than we were last year. It helps with our play on the field.’’
The night before every game, the Porkers will have a team dinner. And when they’re not playing, most likely they will be out, en masse, at a soccer or football game, supporting fellow athletes.
“This is a very unselfish group,’’ said their coach. “That starts with the captains. They make it not about them, but about the team. They’ve been positive with the girls and bonding them because they are all so new. They’ve really come along.’’
Meghan Murphy also lauded the team’s chemistry.
“We call each other 21 sisters because we’re all so close,’’ she said. “It’s the most important part of the team. We’ve never really had that before. We usually have different cliques and groups each year. This year we’ve come together as one. That is going to lead to our success.’’
After suffering a 2-1 loss in double overtime to Andover in the Division 1 state semifinals last season, the Porkers are hungry for a title this fall.
“I know the Bay State Conference skill level has gone down,’’ said Meghan Murphy. “That means in the tournament, we’re going to catch up. Even though we know our next game could be a concrete win, we still push ourselves.’’
Matherson added, “We want to win the state championship. I think we have a shot this year.’’