|Needham High’s Maddie Stenberg (right) moves past a Newton North defender in their game Monday; Needham won, 17-9, with Stenberg scoring five goals. (Jon Mahoney for The Boston Globe)|
Surprising Rockets reach new heights
NEEDHAM — Her team comfortably ahead in Monday’s match, Maddie Stenberg held the ball at a stoppage, Needham High teammate Catherine Conley on her side, and just a lone Newton North defender positioned between her and the net.
The sophomore attack then drove hard at the Tigers’ cage, making a crafty deke before laying the ball off to Conley, a freshman, who netted the easy goal. Stenberg scored five goals of her own in the Rockets’ 17-9 win, raising her season total to 55, but her ability to visualize how a play develops has made an impression on the team’s coach, Beth O’Brien.
“There are not many people who would recognize that,’’ said O’Brien, who has guided the Rockets to a 17-2 mark, their best season since she returned to her alma mater as coach nine years ago. “Maddie is a goal scorer, bottom line. But she is so unselfish. She’ll give up her free position so someone else can score.’’
In her second varsity season, Stenberg has already surpassed 100 career goals; but she is equally adept as a passer, with 30-plus assists this season.
“She just doesn’t know how she good she is,’’ said junior captain Tory Waldstein, who has been playing with Stenberg since their youth lacrosse days. “She’s the most modest player I’ve ever seen in my life. When she scores, her face doesn’t even change.’’
Senior Abby Burns recalls seeing Stenberg play for the first time last spring.
“We had the first scrimmage of tryouts and Maddie came up to me and said, ‘I’m so nervous, I’m playing so bad,’ ’’ Burns recalled. “I said, ‘Maddie, you just scored five goals, what are you talking about?’ ’’
Stenberg has quickly emerged as one of the area’s top scorers.
The second oldest of four children, the 5-foot-7 attack must take a back seat, for the time being, as the most prolific scorer in the household. Older brother Will, a Rocket senior, netted his 300th point this spring and is the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“I’m so proud of him,’’ said Maddie, who didn’t know she had scored her 100th goal until O’Brien sent her a congratulatory text message. “Sometimes I’ll come home from practice and Will is already out there shooting, so I’ll join him. When I’m driving against Will in the yard, it makes it a lot easier going against the girls.’’
Riding an 11-game winning streak after Monday’s win over Newton North, Needham may receive the third seed in the Division 1 South sectional when the pairings are released today.
“I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be this good,’’ O’Brien said. “There were no expectations, none. And I love having no expectations and just allowing them to play the game. My kids are happy, and that’s all I can ask for.’’
In Waldstein, a member of the Lower New England National Tournament team, and Shelby Aubin, who has verbally committed to Georgetown, O’Brien has a pair of talented juniors. But she has leaned on her four seniors — Burns, Taylor Thomas, Michaela Shea, and Lindsay Ewing — to provide leadership for the Bay State Conference’s Carey Division champions.
“They’ve all refocused,’’ O’Brien said. “They are at their best right now. My four seniors and Tory, they are by far the most focused I’ve seen them. And I am so lucky, because that can go completely the other way. Especially at this time of year.’’
Freshmen are everywhere. Starting goalie Annee O’Connor can play with anyone in the state. Kira Oberle, a “future Waldstein,’’ according to O’Brien, is a steady defender, Catherine Conley is showing scoring prowess, and recent callup Clara Nowlan adds offensive depth.
“I think there was an adjustment period for them,’’ said Waldstein, who is being recruited by three Ivy League schools. “With varsity it’s a whole different game. But they’re good. Annee is ridiculous. She’s instrumental to winning. She’s unreal.’’
Needham suffered its two losses to unbeaten Westwood and once-beaten (and chief rival) Wellesley. The Raiders, led by Blake Dietrick, stopped the Rockets last month, 13-9.
“I cannot put into words how badly we want to beat Wellesley,’’ said Waldstein, who often is asked to mark the high-scoring Dietrick. “I’ve never beaten Blake Dietrick in anything. I don’t know if she knows who I am, but I certainly know who she is.’’
Girls’ teams to watch in tourney
►Acton-Boxborough Regional: First-year coach Scott Biron made a few lineup changes a few weeks back, and while the Colonials have yet to knock off any elite teams, they’ve been competitive in every game. The return of senior Annie Nero from a foot injury is key.
►Belmont: The Marauders will go as far as senior goalie Katy Ananian can take them. “That would be an entirely different team without her,’’ said one Middlesex League coach. “She’s the best goalie in the state. And she used to be too aggressive, but she’s become a lot smarter over time.’’
►Framingham: Coach Stacey Freda crafted a tough schedule for her young squad. No one wants to face the defending Division 1 state champs, but Rachel Igoe cannot lead the attack on her own.
Boys’ teams to watch in tourney
►Brookline: After qualifying for the postseason for the first time in 25 years last spring, the Warriors made noise in the ultra-competitive Bay State Conference this season. Senior Matt Hillman powers the attack.
►Dover Sherborn: The Raiders ripped off six straight wins, including wins over Medfield and Hopkinton, to claim their first
►Hopkinton: The Hillers gained confidence with a victory over Medfield, halting the Warriors’ nine-year Tri-Valley League winning streak. Max Robidoux anchors the defense.
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.