By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
In 2018-2019, Walpole High School girls varsity hockey earned the No. 1 overall seed in the Division II state tournament before falling, 4-1, to eventual state champion Wellesley in the semifinals. A year later, the Walpole girls missed out on the state tournament.
In 2020-2021, the Walpole girls will go a second straight year without playing in the postseason, this time due to no fault of their own. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all MIAA teams to play a condensed, conference-only schedule with no state tournament, meaning the Walpole girls will be playing solely for pride and development in 2021.
Along with the changes to their schedule format, the Walpole girls will also have to adapt to rule changes, such as wearing a mask at all times, playing in front of limited numbers of fans, no team busses and no getting dressed in locker rooms. Despite all of this, head coach Joe Verderber says that his team is excited for the opportunity ahead of them. It may not be the season they had envisioned, but the chance to compete together and try to win hockey games is all anybody can ask for during these crazy times.
Leading Walpole in 2021 will be senior captain and forward Kerrin McMillan and assistant captain and forward Katie Meehan. Senior forward Emma McInerney will also serve as an assistant captain, but will miss the season due to a leg injury.
"We need to treat [our] schedule as if the tournament is in play and to qualify," said Verderber when asked about his team's general mindset heading into the new season. "To do that, we need to be better than .500, compete every shift and make the best of this shortened season, especially for our seniors. It will be a tough schedule this year with only nine games against virtually all strong programs. We will need to play more aggressively and put pucks in the net."
As far as the new rules and COVID protocols, Verderber says he and his team are taking the proper precautions and adjusting accordingly.
"COVID has definitely put a damper on the social aspect for everyone," said Verderber. "No lockers rooms makes it more challenging for dressing and talking amongst the team. We will not be using busses, as well. But, most of the players have been on the ice and playing in some form or another since the fall and have gotten used to wearing masks all the time, filling out waiver forms, check-ins and the potential changes of schedules on a daily basis. All we can do is try and make the best of a difficult situation and try and create some form of normalcy to help the girls enjoy the game they have been playing for so long."
The Walpole girls will open their season on January 9 at Milton at 6 p.m.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.