Something just had to give.
With the incredible success of Walpole Fall Athletics, there was just one missing element. Football, which had been a preseason pick of some to win the Division 3 State Championship, lost in the first round to North Attleborough. Volleyball lasted a round longer before suffering a defeat to a nationally ranked Barnstable team. Girls Soccer made it to the South Sectional semifinals before being defeated in double overtime, while their male counterparts made it all the way to the Division 2 State Championship, where they lost to Masconomet, 4-2.
But on the last day of tournament action, the Porkers decided to give Walpole what it overwhelmingly deserved: a State Championship victory.
Field Hockey topped Longmeadow by a score of 1-0 to give the Porkers their first state championship win since 2006. Senior Captain Lina Feeley score the lone goal of the game off of a penalty corner that came out to the left side of the apron, where Feeley gathered the ball and, diving off balance, snuck the ball into the near post, past the sprawling Longmeadow goalie.
“It was a corner that we kind of messed up,” said Feeley. “But we just improvised and I was lucky enough to put it in.”
For those who can see past the modesty, there was really nothing lucky about it: the goal was just about as impressive as her play throughout the game, as she lead the Porkers the whole game. Coming up with key defensive stops in the midfield and directing the Walpole possession, Feeley was arguably the best player on the field.
However, another senior Captain — Brown commit Ashley Waldron — probably came up with the biggest defensive play of the game. On a Longmeadow penalty corner, the ball was gradually moved closer to the goal line until a whole group of Porkers stood firm on the back line until Waldron cleared the ball off the line and a whistle blew for goalie interference.
“I don’t really remember what happened,” said Waldron. “All I know is that I got knocked down for a second and the I think [senior goalie Erin Leblanc] got a touch on it. It was a crazy play.”
Other than that, the play was pretty even: Walpole and Longmeadow traded spurts of dangerous possession, with Walpole having a majority of the penalty corners but probably less shots, especially after they went up a goal.
“I’m so proud of this team,” said Feeley. “This is what we worked for all season and we all did a great job to win this game.”
Leblanc came up big a few times, kicking away some threatening chances for Longmeadow. Longmeadow’s Mary O’Reilly was the most dangerous player throughout the game and unleashed a hard shot from about 20 yards away that Leblanc had to push to the side. Juniors Lauren Hirshom and Ania Egan, and senior Lena Ford led the defense to their third shutout of the postseason and their first in the last three games.
Senior Captain Brooke Matherson, who is committed to BC — the leading scorer for the Porkers on their run — was kept quiet for most of the game, as Longmeadow double and tripled team the star forward. Freshman Melanie Weber provided the most spark for the Porkers up front, as her speed gave Longmeadow problems defensively.
“She’s been awesome all year,” said Matherson. “As a Freshman, she’s been so important and will have a bright future.”
Even with the undefeated regular season, this Porkers team was not supposed to match up against the state championship teams of old: “I think we proved a lot of people wrong,” said Feeley. “Of all the past teams, this wasn’t the strongest one.”
A huge difference with this year’s team and last year’s team was strength of schedule: the Porkers are not really challenged with their normal Bay State competition, other than the odd close game against Wellesley or Norwood. However, coach Marianne Murphy added some new, non-league games to the schedule — including Andover, Beverley, and Franklin — in order to prepare the Porkers for the challenges they would face in the tournament.
It worked: against perennial Div. I powers, the Porkers proved their talent and mental toughness in the Dennis Yarmouth, Duxbury and Acton Boxborough games. It took a late goal by Matherson to beat DY, a 2-goal comeback to beat the Dragons in overtime for the South Sectional Final, and two goals — including one as time expired — from who else but Matherson to knock off the Colonials, who had eliminated the Porkers three out of the last six years.
But in their longest State Championship drought in recent memory, something just had to give for the Porkers. And off of Matherson’s heroics, Leblanc’s goalkeeping, Waldron’s defense, and Feeley’s game winning goal, something finally did.