Former Holliston High soccer teammates Jess Habif and Becca Salant backstop Westfield State, Ithaca to NCAA tourney

Goalkeepers carry on Holliston’s legacy

Becca Salant  and Jess Habif were typically in the right position at the right time while on the girls’ soccer team at Holliston High.

Salant, now a senior at Ithaca College in upstate New York, and Habif, a junior at Westfield State University, played for Panthers coach Kristina Kern , who is the best goalie in the history of the women’s program at Framingham State. She owns a number of records at the university, including for career shutouts (38), set from 1998 through 2001, and was inducted into its athletic hall of fame last year.

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“Becca and Jess had so much talent and they were driven to succeed,’’ recalled Kern, now in her eighth season as head coach at Holliston. “It’s great to see their hard work has paid off.’’

Salant and Habif have helped propel their respective college programs into the NCAA Division 3 tourney for the second consecutive season; their bracket positions mean they will only meet if both make it to the title game.

In the first round of the tourney Saturday, Westfield (18-0-1) traveled to Wheaton College (16-1-6), while Ithaca (17-2) played host to the team from University of Massachusetts Boston (18-2).

Habif has registered a minuscule 0.36 goals-against average for the Owls, .878 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Salant, who backstopped Ithaca to the national semifinals last fall on her way to earning all-tourney honors in the Final Four, entered Saturday’s action with a 0.33 GAA and .918 save percentage with 10 shutouts.

For her efforts in recording shutouts wins against Salem State and Bridgewater State in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament last weekend, Habif earned tourney MVP and MASCAC Player of the Week honors.

A first team All-MASCAC selection this fall, Habif was also sensational down the stretch last season, when the Owls defeated Stevens Institute of Technology on penalty kicks (it was 1-1 before the tie breaker) in the first round of the NCAA tourney. The Owls then fell to Williams, 2-1.

“Jess willed us to win, just as she has done this year,’’ said Westfield’s head coach, Todd Ditmar.  “We’re playing three sophomores and three freshmen on defense this season and Jess has been their leader. She has amazing reactions and great hands.’’

Habif continues to receive instruction from Kern on the fine points of goaltending during the offseason.

“She’s given me a lot of confidence and has always been there for me,’’ said Habif.

“I text-messaged Becca about how we were both in the NCAA’s,’’ she added. “There’s pressure in the MASCAC tournament, but at least you’re familiar with your opponent. You don’t know quite what to expect in the NCAA’s.’’

Salant and Habif starred on Tri-Valley League championship teams in their respective senior seasons, both honored as TVL and Eastern Mass. all-stars. Both are regional Academic All-American selections for this year.

“Jess and I always wish each other luck,’’ said Salant.

“Back in high school we had complementary styles and were given a great perspective on goalkeeping by Coach Kern, so being back in the NCAA tournament and both representing Holliston High is pretty cool.

“Last year, after Westfield beat Stevens, I congratulated Jess because Stevens is in our conference and I knew how tough they were.’’

Salant took over as the starting goalie last year for Ithaca, which plays in the Empire 8 Athletic Conference, and made a school record 139 saves. She also posted three consecutive shutouts in the NCAA postseason tournament last year.

“It was kind of my time,’’ she said. “And I learned a lot about what it takes to play under pressure at this level.’’

Ithaca head coach Mindy Quigg was confident that Salant was ready.

“Becca is a great reaction keeper with great reflexes, and she helps organize our back line,’’ said Quigg. “And she’s a quality teammate.’’

The Bombers’ lineup also includes sophomore midfielders Jessie Warren  (Medway High) and Samantha Thompson   (Westborough High), and freshman defender Jenny Zehner  (Ashland High).

“Jess is a great distributor of the ball, Sam brings a physical presence, and Jen is really coming into her own as a walk-on,’’  said Quigg.

At Westfield State, sophomore forwards Maggie Kerr  (Westborough High) and Kayla Hogan  of Norfolk and King Philip Regional, and freshman forward Amanda Magri  (Ashland High) come off the bench for Ditmar, whose father, Winthrop native Art Ditmar, was a professional baseball player, pitching for the Philadelphia and Kansas City Athletics, along with the Yankees, during his career.

Lesley teammates gain first NCAA berth

Lesley senior forwards Kelsey Fitzgerald  of Upton (Nipmuc Regional) and Courtney Hopkins  (Watertown High), who never played in a losing regular-season conference game for the Cambridge university’s women’s soccer team, were NCAA tournament-bound for the first time this weekend.

Fitzgerald, a team captain, had 4 goals and 4 assists, while Hopkins had 2 goals and an assist for the Lynx, who won the New England Collegiate Conference tournament to earn an automatic berth in the NCAA postseason.

Lesley (16-2-2, 9-0 conference) was lined up to meet Pennsylvania’s Misericordia University in the first round of the Division 3 tourney Saturday at Middlebury College.

“We recruited Kelsey and Courtney to help rebuild our program,’’ said head coach Paul Vasconselos. “Kelsey is a born leader and a highly intelligent player, and Courtney brings a great work ethic to our team.’’ 


Fifth-grade teams from Natick and Shrewsbury will square off at 10 a.m. Sunday at Doyle Field in Leominster for the American Youth Football League’s Massachusetts state championship. Both teams are undefeated and hoping for a shot at next Sunday’s regional semifinals, which will be played in Connecticut. Doyle Field is at 130 Priest St. in Leominster.

Organizers of the One Ball, Two Strikes Greg Montalbano   Golf Classic, held in memory of the late St. John’s High, Northeastern University and Red Sox minor league pitcher from Westborough, announced that September’s event raised $36,000, bringing its three-year total to $80,000. Proceeds have benefited the Catch-A-Dream Foundation, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Pediatric Activities Fund, and youth sports organizations in the Westborough area.