Two-time defending champ Wave earn No. 1 seed

  • Mohawk’s Taylor Williams and Frontier’s Lily Spencer will look to lead their respective teams when the WMass Div. 2 Tournament begins Wednesday with quarterfinal games. No. 3 Frontier hosts No. 6 Turners Falls while No. 5 Mohawk travels to No. 4 South Hadley. Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • Greenfield goalkeeper Samantha Smith anchor’s the top-seeded Green Wave into the WMass Div. 2 Tournament. Greenfield hosts No. 8 Mahar Wednesday. Staff/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 10/29/2018 10:04:05 PM

The field is a bit more crowded than normal, but the usual suspects are still very much in the mix as seeds for the WMass Div. 2 field hockey tournament were released Monday in Northampton.

This year’s bracket features eight teams, meaning all the schools involved will play quarterfinal round games Wednesday and Thursday, with the semifinals and finals still to be determined but likely sometime next week.

As expected, Greenfield High School is the No. 1 seed in the Div. 2 field. The two-time defending WMass champions went 16-2 this season, capturing the Valley League regular-season title in the process. The Green Wave open their path to a potential third consecutive sectional crown with a 4 p.m. home game Wednesday against eighth-seeded Mahar Regional School (9-6-3).

“I thought that’s where we would land,” offered Greenfield coach Erin Thayer of the No. 1 spot. “But tournament time, all bets are off. Everyone is back to 0-0 so you have to bring it every game. At any time, anything can happen. And the mental aspect of the game really becomes heavily involved.”

Greenfield and Mahar haven’t played since 2016. The Senators, who tied for fourth place in the Bi-County League this fall, qualified for the postseason for the second year in a row.

“It doesn’t matter who the team on the other side is, we have to show up and play our game in order to be successful this time of year,” Thayer said.

Frontier Regional School is the next-highest ranked local team in the Div. 2 field. The Red Hawks are seeded third after a 10-5-3 regular season that saw them tie for second in the Valley behind Greenfield. Frontier, which fell to the Wave in each of the last two WMass title games, last won the championship in 2015. The squad opens its postseason Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. when they welcome No. 6 Turners Falls (11-6-1) for a quarterfinal tilt in South Deerfield.

“I’m very pleased with how we finished up the regular season,” Frontier coach Missy Mahar said. “One of our goals was to qualify for tournament. We knew with some inexperienced players and some changes this year, that wasn’t a guarantee. We play a very competitive schedule and knew we’d be fighting tooth and nail to get in so I’m very happy for the girls to pull together and stay strong throughout the season.”

Frontier and Turners met once during the regular-season, with the Red Hawks capturing a 4-2 victory on Oct. 5 in the Powertown.

“I think going into postseason it can be anybody’s game,” Mahar began. “The team that shows up and plays hard is going to come out on top, no matter what your seed is or where you’re playing. Come postseason, your team has to be ready. You have to execute. (Turners) did some good things when we played them. We know they’re capable of scoring goals and winning games.”

Fifth-seeded Mohawk (12-6) is the other local in the field, and the Warriors, runners-up in the Bi-County, open their postseason with a quarterfinal road trip to No. 4 South Hadley (11-5-2) Thursday night at 6 p.m. The Tigers tied Frontier for second place in the Valley this year. Mohawk, which won 10 of its final 11 games after a 2-5 start, did not play South Hadley during the regular season. They last met in the 2016 season-opener, a 4-1 South Hadley win. The winner meets the Greenfield-Mahar winner in the semifinals.

“I think it’s going to be a good matchup,” said Mohawk coach Lynn Hoeppner. “I think we’re just as much of an unknown to them as they are to us. You can look across the score sheet and see who we both played and who beat who, but once you're done with the regular season, those games wash away. We need to be firing on all cylinders and ready to go.”

No. 2 Southwick (15-2-1) will play No. 7 Belchertown (11-5-2) in the other quarterfinal, Wednesday. The Rams, champions of the Bi-County, and the Orioles, champions of the Tri-County League, tied 1-1 in their only meeting this season. The winner will play the winner of the Frontier-Turners game in the semifinals.

It’s been nine years since there were eight teams in the Div. 2 field, when Smith Academy beat South Hadley for the 2009 sectional title. Last year’s bracket featured six teams, though there were just five in 2016, four in 2015 and three in 2014. An eight-team field is a good thing in Thayer’s opinion.

“I think it’s great to have so many teams in Div. 2 that have qualified,” she said. “Let’s have at it. Eight teams, let’s see how things go. I think it makes for a smoother tournament, not waiting a week and a half to have to play. I don’t think I’ve ever played right away as a top seed. There can be a lot of challenges when you have a long layoff, so it’s a good thing.”

Mahar agreed.

“I think it’s great,” the Frontier coach said. “It’s been quite some time since we had this many teams. For the sport of field hockey in western Mass., to have more teams qualify and more of a tournament that is somewhat equivalent to central Mass., it makes it more equitable for the teams that make it to the end.”

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