Recorder: "Wave-Hawks for all the marbles"

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Recorder Staff

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Here we go again.

For the third consecutive season, the WMass Division II field hockey championship will be decided between Greenfield High School and Frontier Regional School, who meet tonight at 6 at Agawam High School.

The longtime rivals have intensified their rivalry in the past three years, during which many of the faces have remained the same. When the teams first met for the WMass title in 2015, the game featured an up-and-coming Green Wave team against a Red Hawk squad that was making its third consecutive championship-game appearance despite undergoing a rebuilding process. The Hawks proved too much for the Wave that season, winning their second straight WMass title, 3-1.

The tide began to turn last season as Frontier once again had to make up for some player losses while the Green Wave remained nearly intact. The result was that the Green Wave went through the regular season unbeaten, including a win and a draw against Frontier. When the teams met in the finals, the game lived up to the hype. They battled through a 1-1 draw in regulation and could not decide it in overtime, leading to penalty strokes, where Greenfield triumphed for a 2-1 victory.

This year is the rubber match, which has the potential to be another memorable game with both teams entering tonight’s championship at the top of their games. The top-seeded Red Hawks (14-2-3) are coming off a 3-0 semifinal victory over South Hadley High School, while the second-seeded Green Wave (14-4-1) is coming off a 7-2 semifinal victory over Mohawk Trail Regional High School. Those semifinal games came one game after Frontier and Greenfield met on the final day of the regular season to decide the Valley League championship. Greenfield held a 2-1 lead late in that game before Frontier tied it on a penalty corner with time expired. That tie, coupled with the Red Hawks’ 3-0 win over the Green Wave back in September, gave the Red Hawks the league title.

“I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way,” explained Greenfield coach Erin Thayer of the championship-game matchup. “You want the best of the best playing each other, fighting for the title. I think Frontier and Greenfield are evenly-matched teams. It’s going to be a hell of a game.”

Frontier coach Missy Mahar has her team in the WMass title game for the seventh consecutive year. The Red Hawks have won four titles over that span, going 4-2 in championships dating back to 2011.

“There are no real surprises. We each know each others’ strengths and weaknesses,” said Mahar. “I expect it to be a great game. It has all the makeup of how a WMass final should be. There’s a great rivalry between the two teams, so it’s exciting to have a chance to go out there again against them.”

Both teams enter with plenty of offensive firepower. Greenfield is led by Raegan Hickey and Audrey Bresciano, the former having broken the school record for career points earlier this year, the latter passing the 100-point career mark this season to move into third place all-time. Hickey has 37 goals and 13 assists this season for 50 points. Bresciano has 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points. Hickey had four goals and two assists in the semifinal win, while Bresciano had a goal and three helpers. Olivia Joy, the third member of the Wave’s front line, has 15 goals.

Greenfield has turned the corner since a 3-4 stretch in the middle of the season. The Wave is 7-0-1 in its last eight games entering tonight’s contest.

“We definitely had a lull in the middle of our season,” admitted Thayer. “However, if you want your team to peak, you want it at the right time and we’re certainly peaking at the right time.”

Frontier’s Olivia Vecellio is her team’s top scorer with 23 goals and 17 assists. The stellar Red Hawks offense is also buoyed by the play of McKenzie Patterson, who has notched 17 goals and 9 assists this year. Kathryn Mason is another big scorer with 10 goals and 6 assists, while Kimmie Asseng has three goals and five assists, while the steady presence of Emma Wesoloski has contributed four assists.

The Hawks lost just twice during the regular season, with the defeats coming at the hands of Division I powers Longmeadow High School (3-0) and Minnechaug Regional High School (1-0). Since the loss to Minnechaug, the Hawks have played well down the stretch. The club has gone 6-0-2 over its final eight games, with five of the six victories coming by shutout.

“I think we’re playing good hockey and that’s important this time of year,” Mahar explained. “I think we’re peaking at a great time coming into the postseason. The kids have great energy right now.”

Greenfield junior goalkeeper Samantha Smith returned from injury in the regular-season finale against Frontier; her presence between the pipes should be key on the big stage. Smith pitched a shutout in the semifinal victory over South Hadley High School.

“It’s an intense situation and she’s been through it,” Thayer said of Smith playing in the finals. “I think for my entire team, knowing that Sam is there, there’s that level of confidence with all of them because of the experience she has. She’s been playing goal at the varsity level for four years.”

On the other end, Frontier freshman goalkeeper Skyla Burniske has been a dominant backstop, recording nearly 100 saves for a team that has recorded 11 shutouts this year. Burniske is also no stranger to the pressure of a WMass final; she started in goal as an eighth-grader in last year’s title game.

“She went through a lot as an eighth-grader, losing the final game in strokes,” admitted Mahar of her freshman keeper. “She’s doing a great job for us and she’s only going to continue to grow. In front of her defensively, we’ve found a unit that works well for us and limits opportunities for opposing teams.

“I think a big piece of the game is obviously the fact that Audrey and Raegan are key factors for (Greenfield),” she continued. “We need to not let them get the runs on offense that they’re used to getting because they’re such dynamic players.”

The Division II title game will precede the Division I contest, which is scheduled to start at 7:45 between No. 1 Longmeadow High School and No. 3 Agawam High School.