Back in 2003, Laura Galopim thought her Weston (Mass.) field hockey team had a good chance of winning the state title. Galopim was coaching an experienced, well-balanced squad, and senior star Andrea Posa gave the Wildcats an added dimension.
When the team lost in the state finals for the second straight year, Galopim was disheartened. The program hadn't won a championship since 1980, and Posa was graduating and moving on.
What Galopim didn't know at the time, however, was that someone on her sideline was already working on ending the drought and bringing Weston field hockey back to the top.
It wasn't a player or a coach -- it was sixth-grader Maria Posa, who made a habit of attending all of her sister's games.
"She was at every game, always with a ball and stick practicing her moves on the sideline," says Galopim. "We used to tease her about it. But there was no way to tell the kind of player she would eventually become."
The younger Posa would eventually become a dominant force, earning Division 1 Player of the Year honors from The Boston Globe and guiding Weston to that elusive state title last season.
Her 20 goals and 17 assists were impressive enough, but it was Posa's leadership that really delivered the championship to Weston. And those seeds were planted years earlier, when she was still idolizing her sister from the sideline.
"I got a lot of experience when I was young," says Posa, now a senior midfielder. "With my sister, watching her play and playing the kid leagues, that really got me started. She was really my role model, and that's how I learned to play.
While big sis Andrea was starring at Weston, taking Globe POY honors herself in '03, Maria was putting on a show at the youth level. She started playing competitively in the third grade, and she was pretty much dominating by the time she reached middle school.
That's when her leadership qualities first started to take root.
"She was so talented, she could have literally taken the ball from one side of the field to the other successfully and scored whenever she wanted," says Galopim, who also coached a youth team at the time. "But she was always a great teammate and enjoyed passing the ball, even though her teammates may not have been very skilled at the time."
Instead of overlooking her teammates and trying to do everything herself, Posa decided to be proactive.
"She started begging the girls to work harder around her," Galopim says, "and she has that way about her that draws people in. Some girls could have said, 'I'm never going to be that good,' and just quit playing at that age. But Maria helped them stick with it and get a lot better.
It paid off, as Posa helped cultivate a new wave of field hockey talent in Weston. When the girls reached high school, they were ready to end the program's championship drought.
Galopim started Posa on the backline as a freshman, letting her get her feet wet on a veteran team. As a sophomore, Posa was moved up to midfield and given the reins. Though she was young, she fit in perfectly as the team's offensive quarterback.
"It was a lot of running, and more touches on the ball," says Posa. "I had more of a leadership role on the field, and I was right in the middle of everything. I loved it."
Galopim says that while Posa lacks a certain explosiveness, her stick-handling, vision and instincts allow her to create scoring chances out of thin air. Think Celtics captain Paul Pierce using craftiness instead of athleticism to drive to the rim.
Her game blossomed as a sophomore, and so did the team. Led by Posa's 16 goals and 13 assists, Weston went 12-3-3 in the regular season and earned a first-round bye in the sectional playoffs. But in their first tournament game, the Wildcats played tentatively and dropped an overtime decision to Needham (Mass.), 2-1.
"That was devastating," says Posa. "We felt like we were the better team and we could've gone far in the tournament. It made the entire team work harder for the next year and want it more."
With Posa leading the way (she was named a team captain for the 2008 season), Weston came back with a vengeance last fall. The Wildcats went 15-2-1 in the regular season and earned a No. 3 seed for the sectional playoffs.
"Maria really took it on herself to get everyone over the hump," says Galopim. "She just wouldn't stop talking about [the loss in 2007]. She stepped up her leadership and really came in with the attitude that we were going to do it that year."
After establishing herself as the best player in the state during the regular season, Posa turned it up a notch in the tournament. Her spectacular goal in the North sectional quarterfinals toppled defending champ Acton-Boxboro (Acton, Mass.), 1-0, and she took over the state semifinal game against Walpole (Mass).
Posa scored Weston's first goal and also blocked a potential Walpole score. But Walpole, which had beaten Weston with a late goal during the regular season, tied the game, 1-1, on a corner in the second half.
Instead of doing the superstar thing and taking the entire game on her shoulders, Posa did what came naturally. After driving the ball through the defense on the ensuing possession, she dished off to teammate Alanna Capasso for the game-winning goal.
"Maria's game against Walpole was one of the greatest efforts I've seen anywhere," says Galopim. "You could see it in her eyes as she was driving at the end. She was going to make us win."
Posa then notched two assists in the state final, a 3-2 win over Notre Dame of Worcester, to help clinch the long-awaited championship.
"It was the coolest feeling in the world," says Posa. "Everyone on the team felt like we had accomplished something.
"It was so nice to see her win," says Galopim. "Her sister went twice but didn't win, so it was great to see Maria do it for her sister."
Never one to rest on her laurels, Posa spent a week in Holland with the Team USA Under-16 Futures squad in April and another week with the team at a Virginia tournament in June. She worked on increasing her speed and explosiveness, and she wants to attack the goal more this season.
"Everyone worked so hard to get that win last year," she says. "I think we all tried to get better over the summer, and we want to come out on fire this year. We have a title to defend."
Posa isn't satisfied with simply ending the drought at Weston. She wants to start a championship streak.
Mike Grimala covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com