Field hockey: Big week ahead for surprising South Hadley

  • South Hadley’s Megan Carey delivers a pass in front of Frontier’s Lila Roche earlier this season in South Hadley. Carey and the Tigers have a big week ahead with games against Frontier, Greenfield and Mahar. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2021 2:14:13 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — It’s a big week for the South Hadley field hockey team.

The Tigers wouldn’t have it any other way.

Despite a 6-0 loss Monday to undefeated powerhouse Longmeadow, South Hadley has games with Suburban League foes Frontier (Wednesday) and Greenfield (Saturday) ahead, as well as an independent tilt against Mahar on tap for Friday. The club already boasts wins over Frontier and Greenfield this fall, back during the first time through the Suburban League slate.

It’s a week that could have significant postseason implications, particularly at the statewide level where the Tigers (6-2-2) were the No. 1-ranked team in the most recent MIAA Division 4 Power Rankings.

With nine seniors on the roster, South Hadley coach Tara Cole said her team is focused on using the successes they’ve enjoyed so far this season as the calendar turns to higher-staked league and postseason contests.

“They’re hungry,” began Cole of her team after Monday’s game against Longmeadow, which improved to 11-0-1 with the victory. The Lancers are the No. 1-ranked team in the state’s Division 2 Power Rankings.

Both of South Hadley’s losses this season have come at the hands of the Lancers. The Tigers dropped a 5-0 decision on Sept. 14, but responded immediately from that defeat with a four-game winning streak where they outscored opponents by a 10-0 margin. Keeper Kaitlyn Lynes didn’t allow a goal for over two weeks during that span.

“After we lost to Longmeadow the first time and went on that streak, I think the girls started to realize that there is an opportunity here to play deep into November,” Cole explained. “I think there’s the realization now that if we’re executing the way we’re capable of on the field, we can make a run in the state tournament.”

Where South Hadley ends up in the final state rankings remains a bit of a mystery. As the statewide tournament is in its infancy, programs throughout the Commonwealth are watching the MIAA’s new ranking system play out in real time. There are certainly plenty of unknowns, but a high seed has never been more important as the tournament won’t feature neutral site games for the semifinals and finals. Higher-seeded teams will host throughout the entirety of the event, and with field hockey’s variance of turf versus grass fields throughout the state, that dynamic will almost certainly be a talking point come November.

The Tigers have relied upon a stout defensive unit this season, with opponents scoring just 16 goals through 10 games. Eleven of those have been scored by Longmeadow, as South Hadley has really buckled down against the rest of the Suburban League slate. Cole lauded the play of senior Abbie Sierzego for moving into the defensive mix and shoring up the back line, while classmate April Hurley remains a rock as the team’s central defender.

“It’s just a composed defense. They’re confident back there,” said Cole. “Moving Abbie back in there has been key. She’s allowed us to have some versatility and be able to do a few different things.”

Then there’s the veteran Lynes between the pipes. The senior netminder, who made seven saves in Monday’s loss to Longmeadow, has been a steady presence for several years as the Tigers’ starter.

“She’s aggressive in the cage, knows what she has to do in there,” Cole offered. “And that’s really key in that position. You need somebody who takes on that responsibility.”

Up front, the trio of Ashley Scott, Gabi Moroney and Meg Carey are responsible for the majority of South Hadley’s scoring this season.

“It’s a team that’s grown close quickly. We don’t have a particularly large roster, so that’s forced them to be more versatile and hopefully that’ll pay dividends now that the games are getting more and more important,” said Cole.

That important stretch begins with a massive game Wednesday in South Deerfield. Host Frontier (8-4-1) was the No. 3-ranked team in the most recent Division 4 Power Rankings, and a win for either side should prove to be quite valuable in the state’s formula.

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