FOXBORO — Heading into the 2022-23 season, the MOA Warriors were facing a dilemma.
The girls hockey co-op between Hockomock League members Mansfield, Oliver Ames and Foxboro graduated 16 of its players over the past two seasons and to make matters worse, they had no incoming freshmen from any of the three schools.
Coincidentally, there also happened to be a growing appetite for girls hockey at several other Hockomock schools that didn’t have teams, including Taunton.
“There’s been some interest from girls playing ice hockey for the past couple of years and the opportunity came about when it was discussed at a league meeting about different schools putting together (a co-op) and who was interested,” Taunton athletic director Mark Ottavianelli said. “We knew we had a couple of girls who were interested that were ice hockey student athletes and we were interested in pursuing a team with other members of the Hockomock League.”
The Hockomock Stars are born
Thus, the MOA Warriors became the Hockomock Stars, with Taunton, Attleboro, North Attleboro and Milford, who had previously been part of a girls hockey co-op with Shrewsbury, all joining along, meaning for the first time all Hockomock League schools would be able to offer girls hockey as a varsity sport, as Canton, Franklin, King Philip and Stoughton/Sharon, who despite both being league members are not competing in it this season.
For Stars coach Jamie Mullen, who also led the MOA Warriors last season, she’s happy to see her initial numbers issue be able to turn into an opportunity to expand high school girls hockey.
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“The fact that there were all of these other Hockomock schools where there are a lot of girls who want to play hockey and they’ve been going to private schools or what not because they want to be able to play hockey because it’s not a sport that’s offered at their schools, so now it’s kind of a long term goal as well where we can let everyone know there is a program out there and there is a place to play and you can now stay at your hometown school and stay with your friends and still be able to play hockey,” Mullen said. “The end goal here is to add a whole other team to the Hockomock League.”
With 21 players from seven towns, all with a mix of experience levels, Mullen said it’s been a learning process but that she’s been pleased with how they’ve come together.
“There’s some line gelling that needs to continue but the girls are working really hard and they wear their hearts on their sleeves,” Mullen said. “They never give up. Our first (two games) were tough scores but by the end of the game, they’re still smiling, they’re still competing hard and they’re finishing strong and at the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for.”
She’s also impressed with how her players have stepped up to take on new roles, including the team’s lone goalie, Attleboro junior Emily Davignon, who played as a forward for the Blue Bombardiers boys team last year before switching to netminder with the Stars.
“She’s never played the position before and we’re very fortunate that she’s stepped up and has taken on the role,” Mullen said, adding that the MOA Warriors last goalie, 2022 Oliver Ames graduate Jess Widdop, also came into the program without goaltending. experience and ended up becoming their starter for all four years and now is a member of the University of Rhode Island’s women’s hockey club team.
With a positive attitude and continued work, Mullen knows the Stars will eventually see that translate to success on the ice.
“They love it and they’re dedicated and they continue to get better and support one another and with that attitude, you can absolutely accomplish anything and I’ve seen it happen,” Mullen said.
Meet the Taunton players
The Stars features two players from Taunton, sophomore Hannah Albert and freshman Kendall Scheralis, both of whom play as defensemen, a position which Mullen said was a real need for her team heading into this season.
“I think they’re both great additions to the team for sure,” Mullen said. “It’s nice that they’re both defensemen, which is certainly something that we needed this year in particular.”
Both Albert and Scheralis come from hockey families, with Scheralis’ older brother Colton currently serving as captain of the Tigers boys hockey team, and have extensive experience in the game.
Albert, who’s been playing for roughly a decade, started out with the Brewins boys club team in Taunton before moving on to play half seasons with the Southcoast Panthers out of New Bedford, while Scheralis started with the Massachusetts Spitfires girls hockey team at the age of seven, who are also based out of the Foxboro Sports Center, before moving on to the Boch Blazers based out of Walpole and now plays for the New England Knights based out of Raynham.
When they heard they’d have the option to play high school hockey, both immediately jumped at the opportunity.
“I was really excited because I’ve never played high school hockey before and it’s just good to start a family and come together as a team,” Albert said.
“I was excited because I wanted to play high school hockey,” Scheralis said.
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So far, the experience has been an enjoyable one for both players.
“It’s been really good,” Albert said. “I’ve made a lot of new friends from different towns and teams and I’m just glad to meet new people and play together as a team.”
“I think it’s been really fun and it was nice meeting people from different towns,” Scheralis said.
For Mullen, the two Tauntonians have brought a lot to the team both on the ice and in the locker room.
“On a personality level, Hannah brings a lot of fun,” Mullen said. “She’s got a great personality, a lot of humor and she keeps things light in the locker room, which is hard to do when you’re new to a team and you don’t know anyone else but one other girl, and it’s really great that she’s got this bubbly personality. Kendall is a little quieter, but she’s a mature young girl and she’s got a lot of natural skill. She plays for another club team too in an organization I coach with, so I’ve seen her on the ice before and she’s got a lot of potential, so they’re both definitely great additions to our team.”
Additionally, she says that the leadership from the team’s captain, Mansfield senior Mya Waryas, has been everything she could ever ask for.
“She’s a natural leader and someone who’s consistently positive,” Mullen said. “She just has a great attitude about her and she always makes sure that everyone is included and continues to be super supportive, even with the girls that are just starting out… Mya does a good job of keeping things really positive and keeping everyone on that level of playing for one another rather than just playing as an individual.”
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Going forward, Mullen said her biggest goal for the team is to foster a tight-knit family atmosphere among the team.
“You have to have that cohesion and chemistry between the full team for them to play well together on the ice,” Mullen said. “You don’t need a team of Olympic skaters to win every game, so I’m really trying to make sure that I’m creating that family dynamic and just that real type of bond with one another so that they’re playing for one another. In the end, that keeps you smiling and keeps you positive. That’s what wins the game.”
Overall though, the thing she’s most excited for is the continued growth of girls high school hockey in the area.
“I love to see the way girls hockey has grown and I think it was really exciting to be able to have enough schools that could join in so that we could have a team,” Mullen said. “It would’ve been a complete devastation if we were only able to come back with seven returning players, so it’s really great just to see where girls hockey has gone and I’m so excited for these girls that they have an opportunity (to play varsity hockey) finally and that these schools have come on board with us and now added it as a sport. Whether they stay with our co-op next year or go out on their own, it’s just very exciting for all of them to have a team to be a part of and play for. You’re constantly creating memories to last a lifetime and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
Taunton Daily Gazette sports reporter Cameron Merritt can be reached at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @CamMerritt_News. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to the Taunton Daily Gazette today.