By Josh Perry
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Last spring, the Westwood High girls’ lacrosse team suffered a double overtime loss in the state final.
On Tuesday, the Wolverines avenged that loss by beating Longmeadow in West Springfield and on Saturday afternoon they completed a season mission by regaining the Div. 1 state title with a 13-7 victory over North Andover at Boston University’s Nickerson Field.
Prior to taking on the Scarlet Knights, the Wolverines addressed last year’s game, spoke about what it meant to them, and used that memory as motivation to drive them on in the final.
Junior Haley Connaughton, who led Westwood with four goals and four assists on Saturday, said, “We never talked about it during the season and then finally before this game we talked about it last practice and everyone just went off about how we felt and the motivation just went through all of us. It was crazy.”
When asked what it was like this past year knowing that another team had claim to the championship trophy, Connaughton replied, “Long, it’s long, but we wanted to take it back from the west. We wanted to take our trophy back.”
All season long, Connaughton has been part of a trio of Wolverines, along with senior captains Andrea Meincke and Jillian Reilly, who have pushed the team back to the summit of Division 1. Those three players have been the primary attacking forces for Westwood and in the final, their last game playing together, they had a hand in each of the 13 goals that Westwood scored.
“We just knew that we had been working so hard this whole season for this one game,” said Connaughton, “and we constantly had to remind each other to get that draw control, get that pass, get that assist…Us three just wanted it.”
Westwood coach Leslie Frank added, “There’s no arrogance about any of three. They want everyone to succeed, so they’re always setting kids up. They work as hard on the opposite side of the ball as with the ball.”
Kaity Healey opened the scoring for the Wolverines off a Connaughton assist after nearly two minutes. After North Andover tied the game and had a shot ricochet off the post, Westwood regained the lead on Connaughton’s first goal. The Knights tied it again but then Connaughton fed a cutting Meincke and Meincke then assisted on a goal for Reilly.
Once again, the Knights responded and scored two in a row to tie the game at 4-4, but Westwood closed the half with a pair of goals. The first came after an aggressive ride forced a turnover and on the restart Reilly was all alone for a run at goal. The second was just 18 seconds later when Meincke won the draw and raced down the middle to score.
“At halftime, we just had to remind ourselves that this was it,” said Connaughton. “This was the last 25 minutes; this is what we’ve been waiting for. Every 300, every mile, this is what it was for.”
The Wolverines struggled to get separation in the second half. A Connaughton free position goal was answered just a minute later and then a second goal by the junior was matched by a man-up goal for the Knights, prompting Frank to call a timeout.
“It was just about stop being flustered and start playing smarter,” said Frank of the huddle. I think a few of our attackers were playing scared.
“They were making it easy for [North] Andover to defend Jill, Haley, and Andrea. I think that was the emphasis of the timeout and of halftime…everybody’s got to be a threat, everybody’s got to score, and everybody’s got to at least make an attempt to charge through the eight.”
The timeout seemed to reenergize the Wolverines, although North Andover goalie Lauren Hiller did her best to keep it close with big saves on Meincke and Reilly. Westwood would finally get the breakthrough on a Connaughton pass from behind the cage that picked out a cutting Reilly for a one-touch finish.
“She was all over the field, putting the ball in the net, getting draw controls, and any time she made a mistake, she came back to get the ball back for us,” said Frank of Connaughton who either scored or assisted on five of Westwood’s seven second half goals.
It was Connaughton that made it 10-6 with a cut on the edge of the crease and the Reilly and Meincke both had drives to the cage for goals. After North Andover got one back, Connaughton assisted on a goal for Georgia Salvatore to seal the win.
“It feels great because the game was close for most of it and they really needed to dig in,” said Frank, who highlighted the play of Shea Farrell, Sammy McDonald, Kelly Doonan and Barner for keeping the Knights at bay.
“I think a lot of our key players dug in, but the contributions of a lot of players, who aren’t necessarily putting points in, was the game-changer.”
It is another title for the winningest program in state history and a continuation of a Westwood legacy that Frank believes is inspired by the number of alumni who come back to the program to help the current players.
“The kids ahead of them are coming back to coach,” she explained, “and are a real presence in the lacrosse community and I think that’s really helpful too because they get sick of listening to me but when they have kids who are 22, 25 coming back to do practice or to speak to them, I think that really resonates.”
The youth program continues to flourish, providing Frank and the program with the talent to compete at the top level every year. It also creates an atmosphere where players want to continue the high standards that past champions have established for Westwood.
“I’m just privileged to be around because these kids work so hard since the time they’re young until they get here,” said Frank, “There’s lot of sophomores and juniors on the bench that didn’t see any game time, but they’re learning from discussions that we have, from practices that we have, and they want it too.
“It’s hard to live in that town and not want to be part of a great tradition.”