PEABODY — All eyes were on Winchester High star lacrosse midfielder Megan Hennessey , and it didn’t take long for her to make her presence known on the turf.
In the opening seconds of the season, the senior captain intercepted an ill-advised pass, carried the ball the length of the field, and despite being blanketed by three defenders, hummed a scoring bid over the Bishop Fenwick cage.
Head coach Suzanne Ontso barked at Hennessey to “know her numbers,” reminding her that she had been in a one-against-three situation. Hennessey later said she was overly excited to start the season.
But the four-year starter settled in patiently, and scored five goals to lead the Winchester girls to a 17-7 win Saturday morning.
Patience will be key as the Sachems defend their Division 2 North sectional crown minus 10 graduated seniors — six of whom are playing lacrosse at the collegiate level.
“It’s early, and there’s still a lot to work on,” said Ontso, in her 19th season at the helm of Winchester, a perennial power. “We’ve got some depth in positions so we’re still getting our feel for who is going to be where. The year before, we only had five seniors. Last year’s class was so dominant, it will be interesting to see what our strengths are.”
Without a doubt, Ontso’s greatest assets are the team’s three senior captains at midfield, where Hennessey is joined by Abby Wheeler and Talene Bush .
Hennessey (193 career goals), who will attend Harvard, netted 79 goals and delivered 39 assists last season. Wheeler contributed four goals and two assists Saturday, while Bush, who will play at Dickinson College, had a pair of goals and an assist. Together, the trio combined for 11 of the Sachems’ 17 goals.
The offensive production generated by Hennessey, Wheeler, and Bush is prolific, but Ontso will rely on her veteran core most for their experience.
Winchester has advanced to the Division 2 East final the last three seasons, so the bar has been set high for this year’s collection of six seniors and seven juniors.
“We have our expectations as high as they’ve always been, and we lost a lot of players, but it’s not holding us back,” Hennessey said.
“I try to get people’s energy up because even if some of the younger kids don’t know what’s going on, as long as they’re in the game and ready we can do as well as we can.”
This winter’s high snow totals forced Winchester, like many other programs, to start its season preparation in the gym.
For Wheeler and the Sachems, it was a relief to finally get on the turf.
“Now that we’re out, it’s really good to get out there and see the lines,” Wheeler said. “We have a team with a lot of younger players, and they haven’t had as much experience on the big field. It was tough because we couldn’t work on the things we wanted to.”
As a captain, Wheeler said she feels that it is important to make the younger players feel confident and capable of adding to the team’s success.
“We’re just trying to get them to not be nervous,” Wheeler said. “They have a lot of strengths and a lot of potential. We’re trying to get them to realize those strengths, and to know we can all play together.”
While conceding that the defense has less experience, Ontso said she has been heartened by the play of senior Megan Miranda , a goalie-turned-defender, and senior defender Izzy Ciano .
Miranda “gives that extra vocal that a goalie would have, which is huge,” Ontso said.
In the net, the Sachems have junior Hallie Stone (14 saves Saturday), who helped propel Winchester to a 23-2 record as a sophomore.
Stone “has come in with a great mind-set this season,” Ontso said. “She played some games as a freshman, so last year she was still getting the flow, and this year she’s getting a feel for what’s expected. She’s gotten more vocal, which is huge with an inexperienced D.”
While last season was successful, Hennessey and the Sachems are chasing the Division 2 Eastern Massachusetts crown this spring, after falling short against Medfield (10-9) in the title game last spring. In 2011 and 2010, Winchester lost to Hopkinton and Norwell, respectively, in the finals.
Last spring “was my third time coming up short,” Hennessey said. “So this year we have all the motivation in the world. I want to win it all and I know all the seniors do too.”
Masconomet has solid midfield core
Alan McCarthy returned to the sideline at Masconomet Regional last spring after having guided the Chieftains from 2003-10. After a 16-4 regular season, and watching his squad fall to North Andover in the Division 2 North quarterfinals, McCarthy is determined to make sure this edition builds upon last year’s success.
With North Andover, Masconomet’s Cape Ann League rival, now in the Merrimack Valley Conference, and a strong core at midfield in senior captains Amy Arnold , Becca Phillips, and Zoe Cennami , who are being joined by junior Kathleen Gillespie, the Chieftains are poised for another deep run.
“I talked with the captains at the beginning of the year about building upon last season’s success and have no let-up,” McCarthy said. “If they give 100 percent in practice, that translates into success on the field.’’
It’s possible to get complacent, he said, “depending on the team, but on this team, everyone is really dedicated and there’s good team chemistry.”
With the graduation of three defenders, McCarthy has turned to senior Marylee Hutchinson and junior Sarah Yeakle .
“The biggest thing is to get us to jell quickly on defense,” McCarthy said. “We have to get that communication going and playing together as one unit.
“Hutchinson has had a really strong preseason, and I see her being a really big help.”