---- — Playing a ton of minutes has become a fact of life for the Pingree hockey team over the last few seasons.
Luckily for the Highlanders, they always seem to have a group of girls that look at long and numerous shifts as a blessing instead of a burden.
“I would guess that our top three forwards are playing somewhere between 30-35 minutes a game, and we run three defensemen,” said Buddy Taft, the retired Pingree boys coach who has been running the girls team during head coach Sarah Carpenter’s maternity leave.
“These girls see so much ice, you sort of build in some systems that won’t burn them out. They embrace playing that way. They love it.”
Senior Jill Witwicki of Danvers is Pingree’s captain. She played defense regularly as a freshman and is now at center, with 99 points for her career. She’s close to a lock to becoming the sixth girl to hit 100-career points in the 26 seasons the Highlanders have had a team.
For Witwicki, a three-sport standout including field hockey and softball, her favorite game is about so much more than points.
“The most impressive thing about Jill is the way she leads. That’s not something you can learn by shooting pucks in the driveway,” said Taft. “She has high expectations but she does it in such a positive way. She doesn’t say anything negative and she has a way of making teammates feel great about themselves.”
Witiwicki has six goals and four assists for 10 points this year. Pingree’s leading scorer is fellow captain Leah Heinze, a junior from North Andover, who has nine goals and 14 points. The Highlanders third captain is Kristina Caradonna, a senior from Lynnfield who tore her ACL during soccer season. She’s been at every practice, fully committed to the team despite the injury.
“I had great chemistry with Kristina; it seemed like all my points last year came from her,” Witwicki said. “She’s impossible to replace, and she’s been such an asset to the team. She’s been the definition of a teammate.”
Heinze has been skating with Katie Shreenan (2 goals, 11 points) while Witwicki pairs with freshman Abby Dirks. Pingree (5-6 overall) rotates a wing on both lines, and typically skated Nicole Khachadorian, Rowan Sullivan and Cara Cahill on defense.
The there’s freshman goalie Cece Purcell, who calls Georgetown home. She stopped 38 of 40 shots last night, leads the area with a .923 save percentage and sports a goals against average of 2.72.
“Terrific,” said Taft, marveling at a save she made to seal a 2-1 win over North Yarmouth. “I told Cece in the preseason that the one thing she’d definitely see was a lot of pucks. She said ‘Why else would you want to be a goaltender?’ That sums her up.”
Carpenter, who was Pingree’s first 100-point scorer in 1997 and has coached the girls varsity for seven years, is due back this weekend as Pingree starts its second semester. The girls were certainly fortunate to have a hockey mind like Taft’s around to mine in the interim.
“I’ve had Mr. Taft for softball and in school and I was ecstatic to have him fill in,” said Witwicki. “He has a great hockey mind. We’re in the office all the time talking about what might work against the next opponent. He really cares about every girl as an individual and he’s helped make senior year unforgettable for many reasons.”
As for Taft, he’s been thrilled to be able to lend a hand.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “They’ve been very receptive of me and very fun to be around. It’s kind of always been the nature of the Pingree girls team that they really have fun and they’re always loose.”
Pingree is 5-6 and hoping to get back on the winning track. They’ve had some tough non-league games and will be getting into the bulk of their Eastern Independent League schedule over the next few weeks. The Highlanders won the EIL playoff championship last year and have been to the final three years in a row.
“The season has been a lot of fun so far,” said Witwicki. “Leah and Katie worked so hard in the offseason and they’ve been great, and Abby has been a huge part of the offense. We’ve put a lot on two rookies on defense and they’ve handled in exceptionally, and we have so much confidence in our young goaltender. She’s keeping us in games. As a captain, that’s what you love to see.”
It’s never easy to lose a coach in the middle of a season, and Masconomet’s co-op was very fortunate to have Andrew Boepple in the pipeline when Nicole Twomey had to step down for personal reasons last week. Boepple coached the Chieftain girls for two seasons and was an assistant alongside Andrew Jackson with Masco’s boys team, which had been off to a very strong start to 2013-14.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” said Boepple, who guided Masco to the state tournament and a 9-8-4 record two years ago. “It’s going pretty well. I’m still getting to know a lot of the girls that weren’t here when I coached, and they seem to be adjusting well.”
Boepple’s first game back was a 9-1 loss to Beverly that looked worse than it was. The Chieftains had it 1-0 after one, and lost the third period 2-1; the wheels came off a bit in a 6-0 edge for the Panthers in the second.
“I think we definitely have depth and we should be strong in our own end,” said Boepple. Masco is in action again tonight against another top 10 team, Winthrop (6:10 at Larsen Rink).
Bishop Fenwick continues to move in a positive direction despite their 0-7-1 record. The Crusaders earned the first point in their three-year history (a 0-0 tie in which outstanding goalie Meghan Woodworth also earned the program’s first ever shutout) a few weeks ago. It’s a team that has a mix of young players with experience, strong leadership, and players that are new to the game of hockey and are eager to learn.
“We feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” said head coach Doug Anderson. “We’ve made great strides. We lost 11 of our 19 players from last year, and we’re just starting to develop seven or right freshmen and sophomores that are totally new to hockey.”
Nina Groom, who is from Swampscott, is the team’s lone senior and a captain along with junior Maggie Clark. Twin sisters Meaghan and Caitlin Carney are very promising freshmen, as is sophomore Gabby D’Otolo.
“The effort’s been great every night,” said Anderson. “It’s been a great experience teaching them. They’re excited about learning and as a team they’re always smiling around the rink.”
This weekend’s game to watch is certainly unbeaten Beverly (8-0) taking on St. Mary’s at Connery Rink in Lynn. The Spartans were beaten, 3-0, by the team they met in last year’s Division 1 final Arlington Catholic last night and come into the contest 6-1-2. For Beverly, the game represents a chance to see how they stack up against the state’s elite; a win or tie would almost certainly vault Beverly into the top five statewide.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said coach Brian Seabury, who made a concerted effort to play a more difficult non-league schedule this winter. “I’m a competitor and our girls are competitive. You want to see where you stand, so to speak, and to do that you have to go against the best.”
Spartan goalie Lauren Skinnon of Boxford has been outstanding, with 11 goals allowed all season and not more than three in any one game. Beverly, on the other hand, is averaging 8.1 goals per contest behind their ridiculous top-line of Nicole Woods (41 points), Julia Nearis (43 points) and Kristen McCarthy (35 points); All three are on pace to break the state single season girls points record of 90 if they continue to score as they have through eight contests.
Kick Saves, a column on North Shore girls high school hockey, appears in The Salem News every other Thursday during the winter sports season. Contact assistant sports editor Matt Williams at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattWiliams_SN.
AREA GIRLS HOCKEY SCORING LEADERS
Player, School Points (Goals-Assists)
1. Julia Nearis, Beverly 43 (26-17)
2. Nicole Woods, Beverly 41 (15-26)
3. Kristen McCarthy, Beverly 35 (13-22)
4. Brittany Smith, Marblehead 21 (15-6)
5. Leah Heinze, Pingree 14 (9-5)
5. Elise Murphy, Peabody 14 (8-6)
7. Sophia Post, Peabody 12 (8-4)
7. Jensena Moner, Masco. 12 (4-8)
9. Maddy Werner, Masco. 11 (5-6)
9. Katie Shreenan, Pingree 11 (2-9)
9. Caitlin McBride, Beverly 11 (1-10)
Player, School W-L-T GAA SV% SHO
1. Madison Jalbert, Beverly 8-0-0 2.10 .868 1
2. Cece Purcell, Pingree 5-6-0 2.72 .923 1
3. Aly Hopkins, Marblehead 4-3-1 3.77 .864 0
4. Andraya Ferraro, Masco. 1-0-1 3.86 .850 0
5. Molly Kelly, Masco. 2-2-0 4.37 .849 1
6. Meghan Woodworth, Bp. Fen. 0-7-1 4.75 .886 1
*Note: Statistics include players from The Salem News coverage area only. Goaltenders must play 33 percent of their teams total minutes.