|Wayland High sophomore scorer Amy Cunningham (left) and senior goalie Rachel Massicotte, taking a break during a recent practice, are among the team’s leaders this spring. (Jon Mahoney for The Boston Globe)|
Sophomore charm paying off
WAYLAND — If there's ever been a sentence that gets a high school coachpreparing for the worst while at the same time clearing space in the display case for a championship trophy, it might be the one E.J. Kluge heard a year ago.
“They say there's this really good kid coming up from middle school,’’ someone told Kluge, the girls’ lacrosse coach at Wayland High.
A star freshman: It's almost an oxymoron. And they usually start off their high school careers in one of two ways.
Freshman No. 1: She's dominated at every level she's played, and she's well aware of that. Her teammates aren't too fond of her. They call her a ball hog. She either doesn't realize it or doesn't care, and she insists on staying in the spotlight. She won't share it. She lives there. She'd rather score 10 and lose than score three and win. This is the freshman coaches dread. This is what can tear a team apart.
Freshman No. 2: She's Amy Cunningham.
“Oh, am I lucky,’’ said Kluge. “Thank God.’’
To watch Kluge’s varsity squad practicing, head past the construction vehicles parked behind the new Wayland High School (an almost-complete $70 million project), and look for Cunningham — she doesn't run, she flies.
With each long stride she separates herself from the unlucky soul charged with defending her.
Cunningham is “easily the fastest girl on the team,’’ says Kluge, and her legs are so strong that Chris Brown, athletic trainer at the high school for the last 30 years, stands on the sidelines and can only shake her head.
“She must be in good shape,’’ Brown says. “Because I haven't seen her once’’ in the training room.
Cunningham scored 51 goals last spring, her freshman year, all while she was afraid to break out of her shell, instead playing the role of “little sister.’’ Michelle Cunningham, now a swimmer at MIT, was a senior on the squad.
This spring, Amy Cunningham had piled up 96 goals in 20 games leading into Wednesday's Division 2 North semifinal against Ipswich. But Kluge didn't want to tell her. Not that she thought it would build an ego, but she was afraid Cunningham would get nervous being so close to the century mark.
“That's a special number,’’ Kluge says. “I didn't want to freak her out.’’
But the most telling sign of just how extraordinary Cunningham has been during her first two years is the Warriors’ winning percentage, which has jumped from .548 in 2010 to .575 in 2011 (her first season) to .775 this spring (15-4-1).
Sure, there have been other terrific athletes who have played a major part in the transformation.
Senior goalie Rachel Massicotte(with a save percentage above 60 — which is like batting .400 in baseball) has been called by one coach “the most underrated goalie in the Dual County League.’’
And the three other senior captains, Katie Terranova (midfield), Bailey Morgan (attack), and Jess Greenwood (defense), have been instrumental to the team's success.
But Cunningham, even as a soft-spoken 15-year-old, seems to make the entire team play better. She isn't regarded as a ball hog (actually, she could probably afford to be a little more selfish, Massicotte said), and she gets uncomfortable discussing her success.
“When she's standing there with nothing to say — that's just her being honest,’’ the coach said. “She's so humble. She's so mature. It's unreal.’’
Because of the way she handles herself — the modesty, the work ethic, the wide smile that seems like a permanent fixture — it doesn't matter that Cunningham has scored 32 percent of her team’s goals this season. She fits in.
As Massicotte said: “If she was being annoying, we'd set her straight. But we cherish Amy.’’
Explained Kluge: “I think people recognize Amy as our lefty who scores goals. They know that's her job, ‘my job is to do this.’ They're able to recognize that everybody has their role and contribution and impact. And it's up to them if they want it to be a big impact or to be a liability. And that competition elevates everybody's play.’’
Cunningham scored 10 goals in a 17-6 win over Waltham this spring. She scored nine goals in a game twice.
“I want it more,’’ she said. “That's it. I want to win.’’
Even if it means passing the ball off in a game's final moments.
“I got so lucky,’’ Kluge said again, for the third time in 10 minutes.
She then thought about the all-time leading scorers in program history. She has no idea what the list looks like. Cunningham will create her own list, the coach figures.
“Easy,’’ she said. “There will be a new award named the ‘Amy Cunningham’ by the time she leaves.’’
Framingham High girls’ coach Stacey Fredawas a master tactician in a Division 1 North matchup against the top-seeded Lincoln-Sudbury Regional girls last Friday, leaving area coaches to marvel at how the Flyers were able to compete with arguably the best team in the state.
Freda used stall tactics to slow the Warriors down, limiting Lincoln-Sudbury to a season-low in goals, but still wound up being eliminated in the quarterfinal loss, 7-6.
But it’s hard to imagine that Framingham (12-9) would have even been in that game without senior Maya Szymanski (46 goals, 23 assists), a University of New Haven-bound distributing midfielder who also became a premier scoring threat this season.
“It's amazing to think she had a phenomenal four-year career but really didn't get the accolades,’’ Freda said. “She made that role change and could drive and create scoring opportunities.’’
Every game this year, it seemed, Concord-Carlisle skipper Paul Morrisonhad to field the questions from observers, referees, and opposing coaches: Does your goalie have college plans?
Senior Greta Whitemight have been the most distinctive goalie in the area.
With her short frame and aggressive playing style, she was as effective as she was entertaining.
Morrison isn't looking forward to replacing her next year.
“The number of interceptions she had this year was unbelievable,’’ he said of White, who hopes to play ice hockey at St. Lawrence. “It was so frustrating for opponents.’’
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.