The autumn season has been historic for King Philip Regional’s sports teams. It’s also been one for the record books.
Four squads — football, field hockey, girls soccer and volleyball — won Kelly-Rex Division championships, three were crowned Sectional champs, and the football contingent is aiming for a State title in the Division 2 Super Bowl game at Gillette Stadium.
The three Sectional championships were won in football, girls soccer and field hockey, and the volleyball team ended as a Sectional runner-up. Both the girls soccer team and the field hockey squad bowed in the State semifinals.
As KP Athletic Director Gary Brown said, “The entire school is incredibly proud of all our student-athletes during this historic fall season.’’
The four teams compiled dynamic records. Football was 10-0 with one game remaining and the other squads posted all-time winning records. Volleyball was 20-3; field hockey 19-3-1; and girls soccer was 20-2-2.
The field hockey team bowed in the State semifinals to Andover, 1-0, on a penalty stroke and the girls soccer squad also lost in the semifinals, 2-1, to Westford Academy.
Coach Liz Hathaway told her field hockey team after the loss to Andover to hold their heads high. And they should because their appearance in the State playoffs and their 19 wins are firsts in the program’s history.
“I’m proud of our girls, they played great and they’ve been part of a wonderful field hockey family,’’ Hathaway said. “The game could have gone either way. Andover was the No. 1 seed in the north and they previously had won back-to-back state titles. Both teams were solid during the game. Our kids were complimented by Andover coach Maureen Noone for being ‘a classy group.’ ’’
One statistic that highlights the strength of KP’s season is its goals scored by opponents. The Warriors yielded only 13 goals in 23 games.
The future for Hathaway’s team remains bright. “We graduate only three seniors, so there’ll be lots of returnees,’’ she noted. “We should have another strong season.’’
The girls soccer team also had a terrific ride, posting a record 20 triumphs. In spite of the loss to Westford Academy, coach Gary Pichel called the State tourney appearance his top thrill as KP’s coach.
"We won a Hockomock title and a Sectional championship,’’ he said. “When Westford eliminated us in the State semifinal, I was curious how our players would react. There were no tears and you could see they felt great about their overall achievements. I told them how proud I was of them. On the bus ride home, they sang songs and devoured chocolate-chip cookies. It was easy to see how much they enjoyed what they had achieved.’’
Pichel’s squad was an elite playoff team but it ran into an opponent that was superb on defense. “They had beaten the No. 1 seed, Central Catholic,’’ Pichel said. “I knew their defense was good but I didn’t know it was that good. They refused to flinch. They held our top scorers, Avery Snead and Chloe Layne, at bay. They had the best defense I’ve seen all year.’’
Pichel, who will see eight seniors graduate, will have five sophomores returning next year as juniors. And, they’ll have some valuable state tourney experience. “Our juniors and seniors next year will be in position to contend for a league title and hopefully we’ll go beyond that. Our future is bright.’’
Here’s a recap of the four teams’ journey in Sectional play:
Coach Kristen Geuss’ squad rolled through the Hockomock League, posting an unblemished 16-0 record and an overall mark of 18-2 in the regular season.
The road to the Sectional final began with a first-round bye before matches against Arlington, North Quincy and Newton North. KP blanked Arlington, 3-0, then edged North Quincy, 3-2, for a berth in the finals where they bowed, 3-0, to Newton North.
“Our match against North Quincy could have gone either way,’’ Geuss said. “We had to adjust and we had to step up to win. We trailed, 1-0, and 2-1. The match was tense and there was a lot of pressure. It was a close call because North Quincy was that good. We played well in the finals but we’ve got no regrets. Newton North is a quality team.’’
Geuss lauded the play of five seniors who turned in outstanding efforts in the playoffs, playing with poise and intensity. They included captains Sydney Phillips (outside hitter), Michaela Palumbo (outside hitter) and Julianne Rando (libero) and Elise Pereira (defensive specialist) and Rachael Veilleux (setter).
“We had great success and I’m proud of our team,’’ Geuss said. “There are no individuals, just quality team players. That’s why we got so far and our girls are winners in their own right.’’
Geuss has coached KP’s varsity for three years and has led her squad to a pair of Kelly-Rex titles. Her first two campaigns ended with losses in the Sectional semifinals.
Pichel’s players went 13-1-2 in the Hockomock League and were crowned co-champs of the Kelly-Rex Division with Mansfield. Their regular-season overall record was 16-1-2.
The Warriors ride to the Sectional title began with a 3-0 win over Oliver Ames, then a 2-0 triumph over Bridgewater-Raynham before a dynamic 2-1 victory over what was a previously unbeaten (18-0) Natick squad. The final, played before 2,500 fans at Whitman-Hanson Regional, was a thrilling 3-2 Warrior triumph in double overtime against Newton South.
Layne scored KP’s first goal against Newton South and Emma Corcoran got the second. With the game knotted at 2-all, midfielder Makayla Griffin scored in double overtime for a 3-2 decision.
“Makayla took a pass, dribbled about 20 yards and fired a hard shot on the ground that hugged the left post,’’ Pichel said. “But, it found its way into the goal. After that, a human pyramid formed in celebration on the field. I’ve been thinking about the two state titles we won when I was coaching at Nipmuc Regional and I’ve got to admit that what we’ve achieved at KP is the best because it’s Division 1 soccer and the players are so skilled. This team is a dream team for me.’’
The victory over top-seeded Natick was another close call and that semifinal triumph had some historic significance for the Warriors. The win gave KP 19 victories at the time and it was the most ever by a girls soccer team at the school. Also, Natick had sailed through its schedule without any team scoring on them first. KP’s 1-0 lead erased that Redhawk dominance.
Layne and Snead did all the scoring in the first three matches. Layne scored both goals against Natick and Snead tallied both against Bridgewater-Raynham. Against O.A., Snead got two and Layne managed one.
“The girls played relentlessly against Natick,’’ said Pichel, who led KP to its first league title in girls soccer in 15 years. “We were able to pull it out when Chloe scored with about 16 minutes to go. Natick’s team and fans were stunned. Coach (James) Blackwell’s team entered the match at 18-0, but I take nothing away from them. They’re a great team.’’
Pichel is on record telling the players’ parents that his current squad “is the finest soccer athletes I’ve ever coached.’’ Here’s why he believes that — “They’re super athletic and they’re in phenomenal shape,’’ he emphasized. “Also, they’re very confident in their ability.’’
Through the Sectional final, senior captain and goalie Emma Durant had a goals-against average of 0.75.
Hathaway told her squad prior to the Sectional tourney that every team they’ll face will be well-prepared. She was right. Three of the four triumphs that gave the Warriors their first Sectional crown in Hathaway’s 11 years on the job were nail-biters.
KP finished the regular season with a 15-2-1 record before starting their playoff run with a 3-2 win over Franklin in double overtime. Needham was next and it fell, 5-2, before the Warriors battled Duxbury for a 2-1 triumph. Then, in the tourney final, KP blanked Somerset-Berkley, 1-0, for the championship. Midfielder Nicole Connor scored the game-winner from eight yards out on a rebound of an Alli Meehan shot.
“Nicole’s goal led us to victory and when the game ended, sheer joy and euphoria followed,’’ Hathaway said. “There was even some crying.’’
Besides Connor, Hathaway praised three others for their play in the tourney. “Our goalie, Abby Campbell, made many terrific saves throughout the four games,’’ Hathaway said. “Her goals-against average in the Sectional was 1.25. Sweeper Emma Izydorczak played solid defense and came up big in key situations while right wing and senior captain Liz Furfari was poised under pressure.’’
During Hathaway’s tenure as KP’s coach, the deepest her team had gone in tourney play was the Sectional semifinals.
“Winning our first Sectional in my 11 years is a tribute to a great group,’’ she emphasized. “They work hard, they’re motivated and they’re coachable. I’m happy for them because this is something they’ll always remember. I’m also proud of our program. We’ve put our heart and soul into it and I feel like we’ve put KP field hockey on the map.’’
Coach Brian Lee’s football team defeated three strong opponents in the playoffs and those three triumphs not only kept the Warriors winning streak alive at 23, but they also elevated the squad into its second straight Super Bowl appearance.
KP beat eighth-seeded Barnstable, 35-20, edged fourth-seeded Mansfield, 13-11, and downed third-seeded Bridgewater-Raynham, 29-19. The triple play gave the Warriors an overall record of 10-0.
“We were in a tough bracket and were tested in all three games,’’ said Lee, who last year led KP to the Division 1A Super Bowl crown by beating Reading. “Barnstable might be the best offense we’ve encountered and Mansfield is always a tough opponent for us. Bridgewater-Raynham is a great program that features physical teams that like to run the ball.’’
Lee said that KP got exceptional effort from the entire team in the playoffs but he cited some players who stepped up in a big way. They include running back Shane Frommer, cornerback Andrew Dittrich, lineman Evan Rice, quarterback Brendan Lydon and wideouts Thomas Madden and David Morganelli.
“Shane ran for 200 yards and scored three TDs against Bridgewater-Raynham,’’ Lee noted. “Andrew is our shutdown corner who leads the team with four interceptions and Evan is physical on both sides of the ball. He’s had five sacks and an interception. Brendan has been steady and Thomas and David have been outstanding.’’
Lee called the playoff ride an exciting time and liked the way his players have handled pressure. “The players have handled the pressure well and they’ve shown they believe in themselves and each other,’’ he said. “They’re very coachable, they cherish tradition and they maintain high expectations. We’re optimistic as we go forward and I like my team a lot.’’
KP will face high-powered Lincoln-Sudbury in the Division 2 Super Bowl. “We’ll have to be totally prepared because they’ve got an explosive offense,’’ Lee noted. “They beat Cambridge by scoring 77 points.’’