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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The Wellesley High School girls varsity hockey team had their season come to a heartbreaking and bitter end in 2016-2017, falling 2-1 in overtime to Westwood in the quarterfinal round of the Division I state tournament.
The Raiders have lost some key players from last season’s playoff team to graduation, such as top blue-liner and Bay State Conference All Star Cat Donahue, along with goaltender Alyssa Cimino. However, despite the voids left behind by some of their departed stars, the 2017-2018 Raiders are a group that returns an ample amount of talent, both young and experienced.
It’s a team that is hoping to take care of some unfinished business.
Leading the Wellesley girls into battle this season will be a trio of senior captains in forward Phoebe Lawrence, forward Elise Coakley, and defenseman Olivia Vernon.
After missing the first eight games of 2016-2017 due to injury, Lawrence responded with nine goals and seven assists in Wellesley’s final 16 games. For her efforts, Lawrence was named team MVP, won the seventh player award, and was named Bay State Conference Honorable Mention. Now, as a returning captain for the 2017-2018 squad, Lawrence says that she, along with her two other co-captains, are extremely excited for the upcoming season; they are encouraged by the talent and chemistry the team is returning, as well as the new chemistry that the team is currently in the process of forging.
“We [Lawrence, Vernon, Coakley] have been playing together for years, and it is amazing to be captains of such an awesome team for our last year of hockey,” said Lawrence. “I think that our team always works incredibly hard each year to be the best we can be. This year, we have a lot of really good and talented new teammates and we have a lot of returners. The past few weeks, we’ve been working on chemistry and learning how each other play. We have also been focused on getting quickly into hockey shape so we can outplay the opposition with both our talent and endurance.”
As far as expectations go for the upcoming season, Lawrence says that she and her teammates are all on the same page and are hoping to make a deep tournament run.
“I think this team has an amazing amount of potential to do really well,” said Lawrence. “Our program has always gone very far into the tournament, but last year we found ourselves out early and we all definitely want to redeem ourselves this season. In order to be successful, we have to connect as a team and play together. I have a lot of high expectations for us and I know that everyone is incredibly dedicated. I am really excited and could not be happier with this group of girls.”
Along with their three captains, Wellesley returns several key members of last season’s team, such as goaltender Liddy Shultz. After serving as Cimino’s primary backup in 2016-2017 as a freshman, Shultz ready to step into the spotlight during her sophomore campaign and serve as the Raiders’ starter.
“Cat Donahue and Alyssa Cimino graduating was definitely a huge loss to our team, but we have a lot of young players who have already stepped in and filled their shoes,” said Lawrence. “Liddy has really stepped up so far with some unreal saves. She was Alyssa’s backup last season and she’s earned the right to be our starter. She is a crucial part of our success.”
According to Lawrence, another key returning member of Wellesley’s defensive core is sophomore Erin Flemming.
“Erin is a huge part of our defense and has really stepped up so far with the loss of Cat [Donahue],” said Lawrence. “She’s going to be playing a big role.”
Serving alongside Flemming and Vernon defensively will be freshmen Lauren Burke and Grace Donahue. At forward, the Raiders will welcome the additions of freshmen Maya Desmond and Bliss Vernon. Lawrence and her two co-captains are extremely high on their new teammates.
“We also have freshman like Bliss and Maya who are incredible additions to our forward lines along with Lauren Burke and Grace Donahue doing their parts on the back end.”
The Wellesley girls will host Brookline/Newton South on December 16 at Babson.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.