WORCESTER, Mass. -- For the third time in six years, the Acton-Boxborough girls’ field hockey team has brought home the Division 1 gold medals, today blanking previously-unbeaten Shrewsbury, 3-0, at Worcester State University's Coughlin Field.
Credit the defense for carrying the day. Shrewsbury only made four shots on goal, three of them coming in the second half.
“I can remember coming to the state championship game the last time they won, I was in the seventh grade, sitting in the stands and saying, ‘Oh my God, I want to win a state finals game”, junior captain Eleana Cardarelli said.
As she thought back to last year’s girls' ice hockey state championship loss at TD Garden, she used that bitter taste as motivation to do everything in her power to avoid the feeling of making it to the big dance and watching your date leave with someone you don’t even know.
“The first day of practice, during try-outs even, we were doing push-ups saying, ‘States, States, States’, like we really want to get there," she said. "Finally getting here and winning is so awesome.”
With 5:11 on the cloack in the first half, Colleen Fowler opened up scoring for A-B (22-1-1) on a corner insert.
“That was a new corner we did, we just came up with it last practice,” Fowler said. “Cara [Conery] inserted it into me and when I shot, I thought the goalie had it, but it got in. I play defense. I don’t score many goals as a defender; I’ve only scored three or four all season. To have one of them be in the state championship, in my senior year, was amazing.”
The next two scores started with Eleana Cardarelli and ended with Eleni Neyland knocking the ball in. The first score came with 2:59 left in the first half.
“I’m just the one who put it in; it was everybody, the whole team worked so hard to get it there,” Neyland stated humbly. “Eleana had dribbled the ball into the corner and passed it. It came in a little high, so I knew I couldn’t stop it, and I just got my stick on it, swung, then it went high and into the corner of the net.”
The second came with 7:57 left in the game. Shrewsbury’s Christa Dilorio received a yellow card less than a minute earlier for pushing (8:44) and A-B took advantage of the numbers and placed the game out of reach.
One of the more skilled players for A-B, Eleana providing two assists in today’s game made no difference to her – she just wanted to win.
“As long as someone scored, I was happy. Me and my sister (Leah Cardarelli) work so well together, people know that, so they put three people on each of us,” added Eleana. “When they focus on us, it frees up other people.”
Gorilla Glue: In the team championship photo, there is one small member of the team without a jersey on, but dons a blue and yellow “AB” scarf –- Apey the Gorilla.
“I don’t kiss the gorilla,” laughed Coach Mae Shoemaker. “They all kiss the gorilla for good luck.”
“Apey [the Gorilla] is our mascot,” exclaimed Conery while holding the gorilla. “He’s been around for 50 years. He’s really important to the team. He provides team spirit, gets everyone pumped of for home games and is really special to the team.”
This year, the team spent much time around Apey, during practice and games, but also in between athletic events, supporting something bigger than a stick, a skirt and a trophy -– a tradition that the towns of Acton and Boxborough have shared for decades and will carry forward, developing young talent and maintaining a strong field hockey program and overall athletic operation. The championship team fielded only four seniors for this championship game.
“There are so many things that I did not do with my friends because I would spend a Friday night with the team,” added Eleana Cardarelli. “We spent more time together this season than I have with any other team. We spent so much time bonding and it showed on the field. A lot of sacrifices that involved excluding normal routines to stay with the team.”
“We have a 7th program and an 8th grade program,” Shoemaker added regarding the team’s long-term growth strategy.” Our coaches at that level are so good, a lot of skill work, and the girls come ready to play.”