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Porkers conquer COVID with unbeaten season

Senior Madison Field (13) makes a cut and works the ball towards the cage for a scoring chance against Braintree on October 5. Photo by Mike Flanagan.

By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor

It was about as unorthodox as a season possibly could be for the Walpole High School varsity field hockey team. A team that annually competes for the Division I state championship, the Porkers had to put title aspirations aside in 2020 due to the lack of a state tournament. Instead, the Porkers played for pride with a nine-game, conference-only schedule.

Along with not having a postseason, the Porkers also faced the adversity of the MIAA's significant rule changes to conform to COVID-19 guidelines. A game normally played at 11-on-11, high school field hockey this season was cut down to just seven-on-seven, adding a giant twist for both the players and coaches when it came down to scheming. Penalty corners, which teams normally receive following a foul inside the box, were taken away, which limited the number of scoring chances per game. All the while, players were required to wear masks at all times, both while playing and on the sideline.

Even through all of that, Walpole found a way to put together an unbeaten season, making this weird year feel at least a little bit normal by Walpole High field hockey standards. The Porkers finished the year 8-0-1, with their lone tie coming in their season finale at long-time rival Wellesley (2-2) on November 11.

"I think the girls were fantastic," said head coach Jen Quinn when asked of her general thoughts and takeaways from this season. "They relished in every single moment that they had. They were just happy to be playing. I think there were still some of those moments were we were like 'I wish I had this' or 'I wish it was a normal year because of that,' but we had a lot of lacrosse kids on our team who lost all of the spring last year, so they were just thrilled to be there. I was nervous about what the atmosphere would be like with the girls really not playing for anything other than pride, but it turned out that they put every ounce of energy and everything they had into this season. It was very nice to see."

Coach Quinn also went on to praise four of her players for their efforts throughout the season, as well as her young rising star goalie, Maddy Clark.

"We had a lot of players contribute, but I was really impressed by the way Caroline Whelan, Natalie Griffin, Molly Weiand and Jess Tosone carried the load," said Quinn. "Molly is a senior captain and she's just a great athlete who's a true competitor with great skill. I always tried to make sure, throughout the season, that at all times at least two of them were on the field. That way we were able to run the field and take control. Everybody had faith in them to make the right reads, lead by example and help us produce a lot of offense."

"Maddy Clark, I thought, [was] outstanding. She's a sophomore with some good skill. She's going to grow and develop. There were a couple moments where she came up really big throughout the year, which was nice."

As always, the future looks very bright for Walpole High varsity field hockey. The future of the sport of field hockey as a whole at the high school level, however, is unclear. Some coaches and administrators around the state of Massachusetts have proposed to keep the new seven-on-seven format, while others, such as Quinn, prefer the traditional rules and format.

"The seven-on-seven was certainly an adjustment," said Quinn. "I know a lot of coaches liked it because of all the extra space, but I think its just a drastically different game. Speed is so impactful in seven-on-seven. Faster teams can just hit the ball down the field and use their speed to overpower everything. My biggest issue was the no [penalty] corners, because instead of a team getting a penalty corner try on a foul, the ball would just be a reset out at the 25 [yard line]. Seemed like every game that had really big impact."

For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.

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