Oct. 14—No team in The Salem News readership area has ever won a state field hockey championship.
Masconomet would like very much to change that narrative this fall.
There is every reason to believe the Chieftains are capable of achieving such a feat, too.
"Every day, every game, every practice, I think about winning a state title and what that'd be like for Masconomet," said junior midfielder Julia Graves. "I'd really love to be able to do it for the seniors, who have worked so hard towards this. There's a lot of motivation for us."
Following Wednesday's 3-0 win over Beverly, head coach Maggie Bridgeo's squad has a 12-0-1 mark this fall. They have blitzkrieged their opponents by outscoring them, 70-5, with nine shutouts. Within Northeastern Conference play, Masconomet is a perfect 10-0-0 and has outscored their foes 59-3.
The Chieftains, who have 16 seniors on the roster, are currently battling Western Mass. power Longmeadow (11-0-1) for the top spot in the state's Division 2 power seedings. There is a very real possibility that the two programs could meet for a state championship in mid-November.
"We play every game, every practice like it's the state championship. That's our mentality, how coach Bridgeo trains us to play," senior captain and defender Ava Tello said. "We have so much versatility on this team where any player can literally play any position on the field; we're that talented. and we work well as a unit, too. I'm confident if we can continue to play that way, we can win the whole thing."
The only team to prevent Masconomet from defeating them so far this season was Andover High, which earned a 2-2 tie. It bears noting that the Golden Warriors are a top three team in the state's Division 1 power rankings.
"The girls are very team oriented and a close knit bunch on and off the field," said Bridgeo. "They have one goal, and it's to play as a team. We have so many players that are open to playing wherever is needed."
Sixteen players have scored at least one goal for the Chieftains through 13 contests, but one player's scoring prowess stands apart: Maggie Sturgis.
The junior forward from Topsfield, who almost has twice as many goals (30) as the next closest player on the North Shore has total points (16), is obviously a huge weapon in the Chieftains' arsenal. The 16-year-old reigning Salem News Player of the Year has an astronomical 43 points in 13 games. If there's a field hockey player in the Commonwealth with more goals or points, it's news to us.
With a given first name of Maguire (it's a family moniker; Maggie is her nickname), Sturgis is the Wayne Gretzky of her sport: a player who is always a few steps ahead of everyone else in both anticipating the play and where the ball is going to be, then dishing off a pass at just the right moment to a teammate or ripping a shot on net herself before an opposing defense or goalie can react.
"Obviously Maggie is terrific at making moves; she's so crafty," Danvers head coach Kristen McCarthy noted. "There's so many things she can do to get a defender rattled, then goes right by them so quickly. She creates a lot of chances for others. and they have so many different girls who can put the ball in the net."
She's used to having two opposing players mark her in virtually every game now, but still finds a way to get open and put up points in bunches. Part of that stems from facing the same scrutiny in practice, where she works to get quick shots and passes off before the defenders have time to react. Her skills, and those of her teammates, have a way of almost always making it work.
Captain and fellow Topsfielder Cecily Paglierani (5 goals, 5 assists) and fellow senior Ava Collins (3-2-5) join Sturgis up front at forward; the midfield is also stacked with scorers in Kenzie Carey (6-3-9), Graves (7-1-8) and captain Lily Conway (4-10-14).
Tello, who has contributed four goals and three assists ("I truly believe she's the backbone of own team," said Bridgeo) heads up a defense that includes fellow seniors Ally Baker (2-4-6), Katelyn Caffrey and Olivia White.
"Ally is terrific on our corners, just really invaluable on the insert," said Paglierani. "We just wouldn't be as successful without her."
Another 12th grader, goalkeeper Ainsley Gruener, is the last line of defense: she's turned in nine shutouts and stopped 30 shots.
"All four of us well on defense because of our communication, and that stems from Ainsley," said Tello.
Among the integral players coming in to contribute off the bench include sophomore midfielder Sophie Doumas, juniors Greta Mowers at midfield and Kaleigh Monagle on defense, and senior defender Kaylee Lucas.
Heading up the program is Bridgeo, the 49-year-old fourth-year head coach from Danvers whose Chieftains have gone a remarkable 59-3-5 under her watch, including a Division 1 North title in 2018.
"Coach Bridgeo always keeps us in check," said Sturgis. "As much as we have that end goal in mind, she keeps us focused on the moment. That's what'll help us be successful, not jumping ahead thinking about three games ahead of us. The last thing we want to do is underestimate any team."
While having a very definite end goal, the Chieftains are also cognizant of staying in the moment not getting caught chasing dreams that haven't materialized yet. That often means finding a way to stay attentive when a particular game turns into a blowout.
"We want to win every single quarter we play," the 17-year-old Conway said. "In those games we're up big, I think those honestly are significantly tougher mentally because you have to stay honed in and not get lazy or let up. We want to continue to work on our game, our passing, our chemistry."
You may be surprised to learn these Chieftains are a superstitious bunch. They have to wear their hair the same way for every game; for some players that means highlights, for others such as Graves, that means at least two braids each time out. They always stand in the same spot in the same line during lineups and run out onto the field in the same order. Bus rides are filled with the same songs (lots of Miley Cyrus) while sitting next to the same teammate for every away game.
That chemistry extends off the field, too. For instance, Conway, Sturgis, Baker, Caffrey, Tello and sometimes Graves will go to Friday night football games and always get dinner together from Panini's in Middleton, like white or buffalo chicken pizzas.
The only North Shore school to ever claim a state field hockey championship was Rockport High, which bested Oakmont Regional, 2-0, in November 1984. Inside The Salem News region, Danvers High is the lone school to even reach the finals: the 1989 Falcons took a 1-0 lead in the title game against Greenfield, only to suffer a 2-1 loss in overtime.
The 2021 Masconomet Chieftains, who have won nine straight league titles (8 in the Cape Ann League and the NEC last fall while going a perfect 10-0) have every intention of making history this November.
Free Hits, a column on North Shore high school field hockey, appears during the fall season. Contact Phil Stacey at PStacey@salemnews.com and follow along on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN