The two towns, Hingham and Duxbury, are separated by roughly 18 miles. And their respective varsity girls’ hockey programs are ranked first and second in nearly every state ranking entering the first of the year.
This recognition reflects their recent achievements, high expectations for the season ahead, and talent-laden rosters.
“All the girls play club hockey on both teams,” said John Findley, the junior varsity coach at Hingham since 2007, who previously served as Duxbury’s varsity assistant from 2004 to 2006.
“Duxbury is probably one of the oldest girls’ programs starting at the youth level, and Hingham the same thing. I just think that more girls in these towns play hockey.”
His perspective is rare. The last four seasons, his daughter, Martha , was a star defenseman at Duxbury before moving on this season to Cushing Academy.
“One of the things that I didn’t do was go on the bench during the varsity games against Duxbury,” he said. “I would go up into the stands and watch because I was rooting for my daughter and for Hingham, too. It was kind of a double-edged sword. I also had to avoid the controversy in the household, because everyone’s wearing green and I’m wearing red.”
While volume has created depth, each program has also produced collegiate players. Hingham has sent 12 players to the next level; Duxbury has seen eight athletes make the leap.
Despite their individual successes, these rivals remain quite friendly
Competing in different divisions — Hingham captured the 2011 Division 1 state title and Duxbury has claimed the last two Division 2 state championships — is only part of the reason. The greater variable is that when these athletes aren’t skating for their high schools, they’re playing on the same club teams.
“Duxbury and Hingham have always been rivals,” said Hingham senior forward Jane Freda. However, she said, “I know probably 70 percent of the kids [on Duxbury] from my club team. Hannah Murphy, Ally Hammel, Carly Campbell, and Jacqui Nolan are on my team now that will be going to a tournament. Rachel Myette, too, their goalie — I’ve known them all since I was 8 years old.”
It’s a friendship that has grounded the rivalry on respect and admiration, along with an understanding that both sides reap benefits.
“When we get to the [state] tournament — since they don’t play in the same tournament as we do — we try to get each other better,” said Hingham head coach Tom Findley, who is John’s twin brother.
“That’s really the good thing. Every year we try to build the best schedule we can because we’re an independent team, and Duxbury will always be on it because they’re one of the best teams in the state.”
Over the past three years it has resulted in six such clashes; each side has won three. But with Duxbury sweeping last year’s season series, the Harborwomen are eager to reestablish their presence. The deadlock was broken Wednesday night, when the two rivals squared off at the Bog in their only meeting of the regular season.
“They’re coming off an undefeated season,” said Freda.
The Harborwomen — who were back at practice the day after Christmas engaged in a full assortment of skating, shooting, and passing drills — appear well positioned for another deep postseason run.
But in the matchup against Duxbury, Findley was expecting to get a better definition of his team’s weaknesses.
“We’ve got a nice squad,” said Findley, who graduated two seniors and had an underclassman transfer from last year’s team.
“We’re happy with the younger kids that are starting to play. I think we’ve got a good mix of seniors and juniors, and the freshmen and sophomores are starting to develop.”
Findley cites his team’s skating abilities, defense, and goalkeeping as strengths.
Goalie Taylor Walsh “stops what she needs to stop,” he said. “I think you form a good team from the backline forward, and that’s where we’ve been pretty good the first four games.”
Hingham will rely on the Middlebury College-bound Freda, who has collected a team-leading 14 points, and junior center Catherine Linehan to carry the top line, which rotates senior Caitlin Sullivan and junior Katherine Saleski on the opposite wing.
“We’re doing really well this year,” said Freda. “We have a lot of offense; a great defense. I mean, we’re just really working well as a team.”
As for the rivalry with Duxbury, she acknowledges: “At the end of the day we’re all still good friends and stuff. But on the ice I can’t really say that I’m your best buddy. You’re playing for your town and your team.”
Meanwhile, Duxbury — which opted not to practice Christmas week — has also started strong. The Dragons lost five players from last season: Three seniors graduated and two underclassmen transferred.
“I think we’re definitely a younger team, but that doesn’t really mean anything,” said Dragons coach Friend Weiler. “A lot of the younger girls are really hard-working and focused, and I think with time we’re just going to keep getting better. I think we can win it again.”
Junior defenseman Ally Hammel has stepped up as the unit’s defensive leader. Myette — perhaps the state’s top goalie, who recorded eight shutouts and a .928 save percentage last season — returns to net. And the tenaciously aggressive sophomore line of Marissa Fichter, Jane Dudley, and Meredith Wright, who exceeded expectations in their freshmen campaign, has already wrought havoc on opponents.
Perhaps no Dragon understands the friendly rivalry more than Murphy (team-leading 52 points last season), who will play lacrosse at the University of Massachusetts Amherst next year.
“It’s always good to beat the best,” said Murphy. “They are a great team, so it gives us confidence and gets us fired up when we beat them.”
Added Weiler: “It tells us where we stand. They’re a great measuring stick or barometer [as to] what we’re doing well and what we need to work on.”
Up and coming
A few other girls’ teams are emerging as contenders:
Braintree: The return of sophomore goaltender Rachel Brazil (1.72 GAA) should keep the Wamps, who got off to a 3-0-1 start, in the mix.
Norwood: The Mustangs (3-1) bring back their top two scorers in junior Emily Kelly and sophomore Kacie Smith from a squad that fell in the Division 2 quarterfinals last season to Belmont, 5-2. Defensively, they’ll rely on senior defensemen Heather Folan and Katie O’Brien.
Walpole: The return of junior Brooke Matherson — one of the state’s elite defensemen — should help a team that relies on defense. Senior goaltender Bethany Welch anchors the back line.
Paul Lazdowski can be reached at email@example.com.