Chelmsford field hockey is conditioned to succeed

When Chelmsford lost to Acton-Boxborough, 2-1 in the Division 1 North sectional field hockey semifinals last year, the players knew they would need to step up their game if they wanted to contend in 2012. They started preparing Nov. 10 and since then have come a long way.

Now more than halfway through the season, the Lions stand at 10-1-1, to claim the top spot in the Merrimack Valley League. They’ve managed to beat Acton-Boxborough, 1-0, and two-time defending state champion Andover, 3-1.

Veteran coach Maura Devaney attributes the team’s success to its devotion to fitness. The girls took part in a rigorous program over the summer and continued workouts twice a week once the season began, either before or after practice.

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“This group has stepped it up a bit,” said Devaney, who’s coached for 18 years. “They’re very dedicated to fitness.”

Senior captain Annie Villaire, who’s been on varsity for four years, said she’s seen a huge difference in the team’s conditioning this season.

“We walk on the field and see teams that aren’t as strong as we are,” said Villaire, who has committed to play field hockey at UMass-Lowell. “Our physical appearance has given us a confidence boost.”

Another factor affecting the Lions’ performance is the use of a turf field. Their home field in Chelmsford is grass. Most opponents they play, except for Tewksbury and Methuen, have artificial turf fields.

This season the team has been renting the turf at UMass-Lowell to help them prepare for playing opponents with turf fields. In order to pay for it, the girls held a car wash over the summer and sold “Lion Cards,” which give discounts to local businesses.

“You prepare in two different ways for the surface you’re playing on,” said Devaney. “For the past few years we would rent the turf come tournament time, but it wasn’t enough.”

But because of the fund-raiser, the Lions have been able to use the field at UMass frequently since the beginning of the season, a big change from last year.

Senior goalkeeper Alanah Melanson said playing at UMass had a huge impact in Chelmsford’s win over Andover. The Lions practiced on the turf the week leading to the game.

“Turf is a good thing, it’s such a quick game on it,” said Melanson. “We didn’t have to go right to the switch from grass to turf. We practiced just like we were going to play all week before Andover.”

Captain Brittany Oliver said that team chemistry has a lot to do with this year’s success. With only four seniors on the squad, a lot of underclassmen have stepped up.

“We were close last year but this year we don’t separate ourselves by class,” said the midfielder, who scored the winning goal against Acton-Boxborough. “No one class is better than the other. Over the past four years we’ve improved but this team is definitely the best.”

Senior captain Kaleigh Hoffman has also noticed the difference.

“The major difference this year is that we all want it,” she said. “This year we have the talent combined with dedication. Our commitment sets us apart.”

Hoffman, who plans to play field hockey in college, said the team has been focusing on playing one game at a time and playing in the moment. Field hockey is her escape.

“When I’m playing I’m not thinking about school or the stress of the day,” she said. “I love to come to field hockey and have fun. That’s why we all play.”