Dedham High’s Celeta prepping for her next challenge

As Dedham High’s girls’ hockey captain, Tara Celata rushed the puck up ice in a game against Norwood in January.
As Dedham High’s girls’ hockey captain, Tara Celata rushed the puck up ice in a game against Norwood in January.
Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe/File 2012

Celata prepares for her next challenge

As spoonfuls of tater tots and mounds of spaghetti were flying across the cafeteria at Dedham High, Kelly Celata ducked for cover.

Big trouble loomed for whoever started the mess, Celata was sure.

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Her thoughts turned to her younger sister, Tara , who Kelly had just seen somewhere in the cafeteria. Tara had a perfect record. She was a straight-A student who never colored outside the lines.

A food fight — a classic display of rebelling children with no regard for authority — would not look good on the resume.

“But I knew she wasn’t a part of it,” said Kelly, a senior during that fateful day in 2010.

“I swear I didn’t do anything,” said Tara, a sophomore at the time, who stood off to the corner on the opposite side of the cafeteria. “It was a like a scene straight out of a movie. People were flipping tables and everything. But I didn’t actually participate. I was way too shy.”

Tara Celata’s story holds up.

Even if it were revealed that the whole thing was her idea, it would have been near impossible to find anyone who actually believed it. Celata doesn’t like being in the spotlight. Never has. Actually, it’s her ability to put teammates into that position that allowed her to become one of the best defensemen to go through the girls’ hockey program at Dedham High.

And this summer, Celata has been preparing for her next adventure: Making the transition from public high school competition to the challenging New England Small College Athletic Conference, where she’ll be playing at Bowdoin College.

The first step: Get into better shape.It’s not her legs that anyone is worried about: she is fast. And having played four years each of field hockey, ice hockey, and track, Celata can skate for days.

“She could really turn it on to generate some good speed,” said Don Parr , Dedham’s co-head ice hockey coach. “That was her strength. And it was so smooth. It looked effortless.”

But at 5-foot-2, Celata could use additional upper body strength if she’s going to be a defenseman at the college level, although she said her position has yet to be decided, and Parr said he believes it would make much more sense to use her at forward.

Celata has been spending parts of three days each week at Planet Fitness in Dedham. It’s easy to find her. She’s the short one benching the bar with no weight on either end.

“She’s actually not really good at the bench press,” said older sister Kelly, a rising junior on the field hockey team at St. Michael’s College. “But [Planet Fitness] is supposed to be a judgment-free zone.”

Tara might have to question that description.

“Sometimes I think people are laughing at me,” she said. “I can’t really help it. It’s probably a little less than half my weight.”

But Parr said because of Celata’s electric speed, her upper body strength really shouldn’t matter much.

She’s like a smart car running with an eight-cylinder engine.

Parr witnessed some of Celata’s finest work during her senior year, when the coach was finally able to persuade her to play a little more offensive-minded.

Before, even if Celata was one-on-one with the goalie in the third period of a tie game, “she would look for the pass first,” Parr said. “She would come into the zone, and instead of driving to the net she would go behind and look for the pass.

“She didn’t look for the flash. She didn’t look to be the hero. She did her job quietly.”

Imagine the anxiety, then, on commencement day in June, when Celata, the class valedictorian, was scheduled to deliver a speech.

“She didn’t leave her bedroom all morning,” Kelly Celata said of her sister, one of the Globe’s 14 Phelps Scholar-Athletes honored last month. “No one was allowed to talk to her.”

Tara paced back and forth in the gym, trying to stop herself from shaking uncontrollably. When she finally got to the stage, “she looked so little and scared,” Kelly said.

But Tara went up there and nailed her address. The crowd gave her a round of applause and she walked back to her seat to finally relax.

Celata may not enjoy the spotlight. And she certainly doesn’t look for it. But as time goes on, the attention is likely to find her again.

At least now she knows she can handle it.

Here and there

Westwood’s John Sheehan has been lighting up the Futures Collegiate Baseball League this summer. As of Wednesday, he was 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 26 strikeouts to nine walks in 21 innings. A 2009 Westwood High graduate, has been playing college ball at William and Mary. . . .

Stonehill College gave its logo, “Ace,” a makeover that will be effective for the 2012-2013 athletic season. The flying icon has lost its headgear and has added a more serious look that has been designed to appear more modern. . . .

The Tri-County Saints Youth Hockey program has opened online registration for the fall house program, which is intended for beginner and intermediate skaters. In addition, the Tri-County Saints travel team, which recently moved to the South Shore League, has some openings on its 2012-2013 squad.