There have been seveal co-op programs that have sprouted up in Mass. Girls HS hockey over the past several years. Usually, these teams take their lumps in the early going, taking a few years to become established as a solid program.
That has not been the case for the Tewksbury/Methuen girls team. In its first year of existence last winter, the new teams surprised many,
qualifying for the post-season with an 8-7-3 record, then winning three post-season games, reaching the semifinals before falling to eventual state champ Duxbury.
With the whole team returning in this, year two of the program, the team has picked up where it left off. Heading into Monday’s game with Melrose (a new program this year also doing well), Tewksbury/Methuen is 9-0-0, the only team in Massachusetts girls hockey with a perfect record to date, and ranked #5 in HNIB News’s latest Top 10 poll.
“I don’ think the team’s success this season is a surprise,” said Ariana Rigano, who is the team’s head coach this winter as Kim Bruff, last year’s coach, is on maternity leave. “Last year under Kim they finished strong and had a great run in the tournament. The second half of the year they really turned in on and played great. Also, this year some new players have joined the team and they have helped the team to improve and get off to a strong start.”
Looking back, the success right out of the chute isn’t too surprising. Many of the team’s players have a lot of experience in the sport, playing on successful select teams. Many also played in boys’s programs, so they were used to playing at a fast speed.
“And, many girls from Methuen played with the girls from Tewksbury on different teams, and I think that definitely helped,” Rigano said.
What has been the biggest key to success so far?
“The biggest key I believe is their hard work,” said Rigano, a former star at Austin Prep. “Every practice the girls are putting their best effort forth and working on improving. They really do practice how they play. They are constantly challenging each other and battling day in and day out.”
And, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a player the caliber of junior forward Amanda Conway. The sniper led the state last winter with a whopping 52 goals, and this year is already on pace to exceed that total, having scored 31 goals in the team’s first nine games. In the team’s most recent win over Chelmsford, Conway reached the 100-career point plateau.
“Amanda Conway is a very talented player,” Rigano said. “I think her speed, stickhandling skills, and shot make her a great player. She has the ability to make plays where one may not see them. She doesn’t stop from the drop of the puck until the end of the game, regardless of the high amount of minutes she plays.”
Conway certainly isn’t the only talented club on the team. Senior goaltender Taylor Lirakis, the team captain, plays big in big games and has
been the backbone of the team. Hayley Sutherland (1-6-7) and Kathleen LeFebre (5-6-11) have been phenomenal on defense and are captains as well. A third defenseman, freshman Niamh Cote, has been solid as well.
Up front, eighth-grader Kelly Golini (8-7-15) and seventh-grader Caroline Curley (3-6-9) have been offensive standouts as well.
Two more wins and the team will clinch a second straight playoff berth. Looking ahead, Tewksbury/Methuen, other than MVC-Dual County Small league games, will have a pair of tilts with Melrose, one with Leominster/St. Bernard’s, one with Marblehead and a key battle with Andover to close the regular season on February 20th.
“I think the kids have always had confidence, but winning obviously helps,” Rigano said. “Getting some big wins this year against very good teams who play in very tough leagues definitely helps. If they play how they are capable, they are strong contender for the Division II title.”