By Greg Phipps
---- — For many teams, losing nine players to graduation would mean the beginning of a rebuilding phase.
But for the Newburyport field hockey program, it’s more a case of resetting and taking up where it left off, as seventh-year head coach Lauren Hefferan expects her Clippers to once again challenge for first place in the Cape Ann League and earn a postseason berth.
The Clippers finished 13-3-3 and were CAL Div. 1 runners-up to Masconomet last season. As a fourth seed in the Division 2 North playoffs, they were upset by 13th-seeded Wayland 3-2 in a first-round overtime battle. Having averaged over 12 wins a season during Hefferan’s tenure as coach, Newburyport earned back-to-back CAL titles in 2010 and ’11 and advanced to the semifinals of the sectional round both times.
Among the departed players are four-year starting goalie Kendra Dow and top midfielders Kate McCauley, Paige Hefferan and Lea Tomasz.
“Paige was Player of the Year for Division 1 CAL and Kate, Kendra and Lea were all-star league players,” said coach Hefferan. “They were very fast and strong, and they had a lot of playing experience.”
Despite the significant loss in personnel, however, the coach remains confident the Clippers will continue to succeed on the field, due in large part to a strong middle school program.
“Our middle school feeder program is starting to pay off. We have four new freshmen who are very athletic and fast. They have good stick skills and know the basics of the game,” Hefferan said. “They’re very eager to learn and they’re extremely coachable.”
The four freshmen Hefferan refers to are Michaela Corvi, Olivia Thirkell, Meagan Bragole and Madeline Green, who have each reaped the benefits of Newburyport’s feeder program.
“Jessica Delacey, the middle school coach, is doing a fantastic job preparing the girls for high school play,” Hefferan said. “John Daileanes and I started the wheels turning about four years ago to start a middle school traveling team. We’re beginning to see its impact at the high school level. We had a large number of kids trying out this year and most of them have played at the middle school level.”
Along with the successful youth movement, the Clippers are bolstered by the return of nine players from last year’s varsity team. Forwards Eliza Filipancic, Emma Bartol, Marie Cahalane and Caroline Marino fuel the offensive attack while Ashley Hodge, Lindsay Howard and Molly Stanton will play midfield.
Defensively, the Clippers will be led by Mary Pettigrew, Renee Vartabedian and Meghan Stanton.
“The returning players look solid and consistent. Their skills and confidence have definitely grown over the last year,” said Hefferan.
The coach added that this year’s biggest question mark is goaltending. Both Megan Desautels, who was the junior varsity netminder last year, and varsity returnee Lauren Singer, who is trying her hand at the goalie position for the first time, are the candidates to replace Dow.
Neither of them has played the position at the varsity level, according to Hefferan.
In reference to the team’s success in recent years, Hefferan was excited that four players from Newburyport are presently playing at the college level. They are Cassaundra Davis (St. Michael’s College), Molly Rowe (Bentley College), Paige Hefferan (Keene State College) and Kate McCauley (Merrimac College).