Thank You, Power Ranking: Three Belmont Teams Make Their State Tourneys Under New System

Photo: Belmont High Girls’ Volleyball starts tourney play on Nov. 4

Jen Couture, Belmont High Volleyball head coach, was joking – a bit – when discussing her team as it wrapped up the 2021 fall season last week.

“Best 7-11 team ever, huh?” she said.

In fact, Belmont IS the best 7-11 volleyball team, at least, in the context that the Marauders will be taking its below .500 record into the MIAA Division 1 state tournament. Just two years ago, a similar “losing” season would have seen the team packing their uniforms early. But in 2021, Volleyball is joining Field Hockey (6-10-0) and Boys’ Soccer (6-9-3) into the playoff brackets with a more defeats than victories to their names.

What gives?

The reason a trio of Belmont squads have a chance make some post season noise is the new process instituted this year by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. For the first time, teams are not judged by their win/loss records but ranked under a formula that considers how strong each opponents’ schedule is and the team’s average margin of victory. Under this system, playing well against top ranked teams is rewarded even if your team suffers losses during the season while defeating weak squads by a small margin could see you tumble in the rankings.

The Division 1 tournament for Belmont’s fall teams starts on Thursday, Nov. 4 with Volleyball at 10th seed Lincoln-Sudbury Regional (14-6) at 4:30 p.m. and then the 28th ranked Boys Soccer (6-9-3) hosting Peabody (8-8-1) at 7 p.m. Field Hockey (30th ranked at 6-10) ventures up Route 2 to meet its traditional pre-season opponent third-seed Concord-Carlisle (16-1-1) on Friday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.

The overall ranking decides if a team is one of the 32 teams that make the playoffs and their seeding in the tournament. A team’s win/loss record only comes into the mix if a squad is outside the top 32 but has a winning – above .500 – record. And then they are required to meet one of the lowest seeds, starting with the 32nd ranked team in a play-in match.

If the MIAA had followed the playoff criteria from previous years based on a team’s victories and defeats, every Belmont’s fall team – boys’ golf and girls’ swimming state championships are determined at single event meets and matches – would have failed to make the tournament.

Belmont’s teams benefited from being in a very competitive conference, the Middlesex League, with a number of strong teams. For example, Field Hockey faced three of the top 12 teams in the state twice during the season. Because the three top teams have very high ratings, just playing them is important in making the tournament. In their second games against Winchester and Arlington, Belmont kept the margin of victory of their opponents to less than the three – which is the maximum amount the ranking will count for or against a team – which prevented the Marauders from slipping out of the tournament as they placed 30th.

For volleyball, the new system doesn’t punish the team ending the season on one of the most brutal seven match losing streaks in team history, five of those losses going the distance, 3 sets to 2. But due to the tough schedule it faced, Belmont is ranked 23rd, one place higher than Natick High (10-4), three better than Wellesley (11-6) and five notches greater than Bridgewater-Raynham which finished the year at 12-5.

Boys soccer also found itself on the wrong end of an early season seven game bad beat, which in previous seasons would have been fatal to its chances making the playoffs. But a win against Winchester and two memorable ties vs top-ranked Melrose and Arlington saw the Marauders slide in seeded 28th with a play in game to come.

Yet losing to underrated teams or playing a slew of weak squads has dashed the fortunes of Girls Soccer (5-6-5) and Belmont High Football. Belmont’s Hall of Fame Girls Soccer Head Coach Paul Graham lamented his team’s losses to “small schools” Wakefield and Stoneham – those in the Middlesex League Freedom division – which the Marauders would traditionally skim by. A 1-1 tie against three-win Watertown, which hadn’t scored a goal against Belmont in 30 years, and a 5-0 home defeat against Arlington in the season finale was just enough to place the Marauders 34th in Division 1, the first team that missed the tournament as the 33rd placed squad had a better than .500 record and is in a play-in game.

While the football team (4-4) has had a great start to the season, the four wins came against opponents with a combined record of 3-28, which put the Marauders behind the eight ball early. And while Belmont finished the regular season with a one-point loss to 6-1 Woburn, they lost big to middle-of-the-road Wakefield (4-3) and Arlington (3-4) which saw them fall to 25th where the first 16 in Division 2 made the post season.

Strong 3-0 Start Sees Belmont High Field Hockey Entering League Play Against Tough Rivals [VIDEO]

Photo: Belmont High’s Layne Doherty vs Melrose.

Led by an experienced set of forwards and a solid midfield, Belmont High Field Hockey has started its 2021 season without “stars” but with a “team” mentality playing on the pitch

And the results, so far, are promising. The normal opening night nerves saw Belmont – ranked 15th in both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald polls – wait until the fourth quarter to take down visiting Wilmington, 3-2, before finding their scoring stride at Stoneham, a 6-1 rout on a high grass pitch, before handling an undefeated Melrose team, 8-1, at Harris Field.

While the Marauders have shown its scoring muscle, the squad doesn’t rely on any one person as the scoring talisman. This year’s version is about everyone pitching in at the highest level.

“The one thing I like about this team is that they all use each other on the field,” said Belmont’s long-time head coach Jessica Smith. “There’s not one true standout. We have a lot of people who can play really hard and really well. They support each other and play together because they’re not looking to carry the ball 50 yards.”

In fact, the squads best defense is its attack. Against Melrose, the visitors did not enter the Belmont zone for the first four minutes of the game as the Marauders front line ball-hawked the Raiders passes and dribbles, forcing turnovers and sending a pair of steals/shots skirting a foot past the opponent’s right post.

So far into the season, Belmont found its scoring touch tallying 17 goals with senior co-captain Ellie McLaughlin, who scored a hat trick against Melrose, and Molly Dacey each with four goals.

The attack, in which an impressive nine players have scored, shows that all the players on the pitch are expected to contribute.

“I think we’re really working on spreading out and getting the ball to new people on the field,” said McLaughlin. The team’s offensive orientation is based on playing together for the past three years for many on the team.

”Our chemistry has brought us together as a team really nicely, especially how we work in our practices,” said McLaughlin in her third year on the varsity squad

What Belmont has demonstrated in its first three games is a quickness to shut down passing lanes and a willingness to challenge opponents for the ball all over the field, traits Smith seeks in her teams.

“I want to play physical because it takes teams out of their [plan] and we can play our game,” said Smith.

Unlike past teams which had college-level defenses (four recent backs have gone to play at Division 1 programs) a relatively young defense and first year goaltenders has been boosted by the addition of senior Mia Mueller who brings three years of varsity experience to the D-line.

“Mia played forward and midfield in the past so she knows how to handle the ball and make passes. And she’s fast so she can close down anyone in the middle. She’ll be so important for us this year,” said Smith.

And the Marauders will need to be at the top of its game as it opens its Middlesex Liberty Division account against strong programs, hosting Lexington on Tuesday, Sept. 21 and traveling to Winchester on Thursday, Sept. 23.

“It’s a big change going from playing the smaller schools to the larger ones. I’m excited because it’s a good test for us to see what we can do and I think the kids are up for it because they know what’s coming,” said Smith.

”We’ve been working hard at practices and been communicating on the field so I think it’ll work against them,” said McLaughlin.

Belmont High Field Hockey Rains Over Wilmington In Opener, 3-2

Photo: Belmont High (from left) Sajni Sheth-Voss. Mia Mueller, goalie Julia Herlihy, Layne Doherty and Willa Samg defending a penalty corner.)

Despite the visit of a steady shower, Belmont High School Field Hockey’s opening night of the 2021 season would not be dampened as the Marauders prevailed over the Wilmington High Wildcats, 3-2, on the first game played on Harris Field this school year, Thursday, Sept. 9.

Molly Dacey scored the game winner midway through the fourth quarter off a penalty corner where senior co-captain Sajni Sheth-Voss passed to Layne Doherty who bounced the ball to Dacey who struck it mid-flight and by the Wildcat goalie.

Belmont’s grades 11s and 12s were playing as if was mid-season, pressuring the Wilmington midfield and defenders with their speed on the ball and combination passing.

“We definitely had possession of the ball more than [Wilmington], our passing looked good because they were really looking for each other,” said long-time head coach Jess Smith.

“They were fast out there,” said Smith. “I’m a big believer in fitness. I don’t sub that often when the team is on their game so I want them to have the energy to go for the entire game.”

Belmont was led by senior co-captain Ellie McLaughlin who, with Sheth-Voss, quarterbacked the team from the midfield while fellow senior Mia Mueller anchored the back line moving back from her usual forward position.

“I told [Mueller] that ‘after being a forward and in midfield, you see the field so well you can control the ball and bring it up to the front’,” said Smith, who compares her play with former Marauder Emma Donahue who is playing for Division 1 Merrimack College.

Mueller opened Belmont’s scoring account less than five minutes into the game with a cracker of a shot on a penalty corner. After seeing the game tied at 1 in the second quarter, Sheth-Voss gave the Marauders its second lead in the contest with what could be a contender for goal of the year as she intercepted a Wildcat clearing pass on the right side, sidestepped a pair of defenders and from along the goal line sprung a quick shot that somehow breached the goalie’s pad and into the net.

Belmont will take on Stoneham away on Monday, Sept. 13.

Sports: Field Hockey, Boys’ Soccer, Girls’ X-C Break In the Win Column At Season Midpoint

Photo: Belmont High’s Isabel Burger taking first at Reading.

The shortened 2020 fall sports season reached it midpoint as Belmont saw three of its teams – field hockey, girls’ cross country and boys’ soccer – all registered their first victories of the campaign.

Burger leads Girls’ Cross Country to first of the season victory

A strong showing by Belmont girls’ harriers’ three, four and five runners saw the Marauders notch its first win of the season, defeating host Reading Memorial, 22-35, on a cool and cloudy autumn noon time on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Belmont Head Coach Melissa Tkacs said after the chaos of the first race in Lexington – every Belmont runner with the exception one ran an extra mile – that “each runner is coming into their own. We had a really solid training week so the runners felt confident coming into [the race] and you could see that confidence come through.”

Leading Belmont (1-2) over the short-ish 2.5 mile course was the team’s senior stalwart Isabel Burger who took first in 16 minutes and 2 seconds followed by fellow senior Elizabeth Hoerle who placed third in 17:03.

Burger lived up to expectations – she finished first vs. Lexington and second in Winchester – running stride for stride with Reading’s Sophie Shanley over the first half of the race before pulling away and winning by 61 seconds.

Tkacs also praised the running of Tori Meringer, Tilly Hamer and Angie Zhao – again, all seniors – who secured the win finishing in 4th, 5th and 6th.

“In cross country, what’s important is not only how your top runners do but also how the pack performs. Today I think we had a tight pack and that supported the team and provided us having a successful race,” she said.

Next for the harriers is a trip to Arlington on Sat. Nov. 7.

Estrada’s brace lifts Marauders to victory

Two goals by junior striker Mateo Estrada and a clean sheet from junior goalkeeper Damon Reyes resulted in the Belmont High Boys’ Soccer (1-3-1) winning its first game of the season, 2-0, in action at Harris Field Saturday, Oct. 24.

Estrada opened his scoring account midway through the second quarter with an assist from senior co-captain Theo Kargere. He doubled his goal total just 32 seconds into the third quarter on a solo strike, giving first year Head Coach Jean Laforgue- Carlone his initial victory running the team.

Belmont will be at Reading at 10 a.m., Halloween, in the reverse fixture.

Field Hockey, behind Donahue’s hat trick, earns first win

Belmont High Field Hockey was thrown into the fire as the season began, having to face Middlesex League powerhouses Lexington and Winchester all the while having to learn a new game due to extensive rule changes – the most significant being the reduction of players on the field from 11 to 7 – on top of limited practice time.

While Belmont found itself on the wrong side of big score results, the team made steady progress adapting to a game that relies less on traditional skills of short passing and stickhandling and more long on the long ball and speedy counters.

“We are starting to gel after having such a hard start with so many new kids on the team and trying to figure out where they go. You have to rely on some of them because our starters can’t last out on the field because they are covering so much of the ground,” said Belmont’s long serving head coach Jess Smith.

Belmont demonstrated its newly found game with a 3-1 victory against host Reading on Saturday, Oct. 24 as forward Emma O’Donovan scored the hat trick with goals in the second and fourth quarters.

As for the offense, it all comes down to O’Donovan.

“We could talk all afternoon about number 24 [O’Donovan],” said Belmont’s long serving head coach Jess Smith. The senior co-captain demonstrated her outstanding stick handling in passing defenders leading to her second goal on the solo break four minutes into the fourth.

O’Donovan’s final goal came 83 seconds after the penultimate strike, coming off a long rebound that she took on the backhand – requiring her to hold her stick with the stick blade positioned downward – and one timed it back pass the goalie.

While O’Donovan took charge up front, the Marauders’ defense starts with senior goalie Kendall Whalen who had a busy day beating back several drives into the the attacking zone.

“I don’t know how many saves [Whalen] had but I remember a couple of two player breaks that she rushed out of the net and came up huge. That takes confidence,” said Smith.

Twins Olympia and Sophie Kalavantis anchored the backline as the senior co-captains while midfielders Ellie McLaughlin and Ally Donahue won Smith’s plaudits for doing the heavy work of rushing back to help out defensively but also contributing upfield in the attack. And junior attack Molly Dacey “is just non-stop with a ton of energy who works hard whenever she’s on the field.”

At 1-4-0, Belmont hosts Reading at Harris Field at 1:30 p.m. on Halloween.

Rest of sports:

Belmont High Girls’ Soccer had most of the shots and was putting on a display of combination passing that Head Coach Paul Graham described as “the best we’ve done all year.” But the Marauders lacked the finishing touch against host Reading on Oct. 24.

And Belmont would suffer the fate of good teams that allow their opponents to “stick around.” Scoreless midway through the fourth quarter, a tricky shot alluded the Belmont defense which gave Reading the lead. And while the Marauders had their chances late, they could not convert from a series of set pieces, falling to Reading, 1-0, as the Rockets earned its first win.

Belmont, 1-3-1, will next see Reading on Halloween at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m.

Sports: Girls’ XC Takes The Wrong Way Home; Golf Opems With The W; Field Hockey’s Hard Start

Photo: Belmont High’s Isabel Burger

It was looking like a promising start to the shortened season for Belmont High’s Girls’ Cross Country. Senior Isabel Burger surged in the final half mile to win going away the first dual meet against Lexington on a crisp Saturday morning Oct. 3.

Lexington’s first runner came by 15 seconds back. Lexington runners then came in third, fourth and fifth. “I know we had runners who were better than those runners,” said Belmont Head Coach Melissa Tkacs.

When each of Lexington’s seven runners in the first wave of the varsity race had crossed the finish line of the 3.1 mile race in Lexington’s Hastings Park with nary a Belmont Harrier insight, “I knew something was not right,” said Tkacs especially when the second Belmont runner across the lin started two-and-a-half minutes after the first wave.

Thankfully, about 12 minutes after their expected arrival time the team began appearing from the Bermuda Triangle known as the Lexington cross country course.

So what happened? It appears that the Belmont runners behind Burger where told to run a half mile loop not the one time as they were supposed to but two extra times resulting in the “Lost Six” logging 4.1 miles. The runners said that a course official kept sending them back on the loop.

Due to the incorrect instructions, the Minutemen took the meet, 20-41.

“The results won’t reflect what the girls are capable of,” said Tkacs. “They ran hard even though it was an extra mile and that a lot of extra running to do.”

“We’ll rally and do better at the next meet,” she said.

There has been conversations Belmont runners will return to the course to run and receive a time for the race.

Golf Hopes To Repeat Opening Win Against Always Tough Lexington

Belmont High’s golfers got off to a smart start in defense of its Middlesex League crown by defeating Arlington High’s SpyPonders, 41-31, at Winchester Country Club on Tuesday, Sept. 29. Head Coach Jeff Shea will lead his charges against visitors Lexington on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 3:30 p.m.

Field Hockey Discovers The Old Ways Won’t Work

Belmont High Field Hockey has long been known as a team that used precise passing and pressuring defense to reach the post season 13 times in 14 years.

But under the new rules – reducing the numbers of players on each team from 11 to 7, no penalty corners and social distancing between players among others – its once strengths have diminished to a more wide open game that a single player can dominate.

Against Belmont in the season opener on Saturday, that one player was Lexington’s Maddie Devine. Last year’s Middlesex League co-MVP who will be heading to BU next year, Devine quarterbacked a quick team that found space all over the field playing a long ball game.

“We went into the game with an offensive mindset because we looked good in practice,” said head coach Jess Smith. But early in the game, Lexington was able to send midfielders into the offensive end, creating odd man breaks where two or three Minutemen would be defended by a single Belmont back line player.

“No matter how much you practice, it’s only in the game where you saw how important long passes and speed have become,” said Smith.

Needing to quickly adjust their game, Belmont would revert back to playing as if it was 11 players against 11 with a reliance on short connecting passes. “But that’s wasn’t going to work,” said Smith.

It wasn’t pretty at the end as Belmont and Smith suffered its worst defeat since Smith arrived in 2004, losing 8-0.

“We’ll have to work on our defense and learn to adjust. But we’re just not there just yet,” said Smith.

Belmont Playing Modified Soccer, Field Hockey, XC This Fall; Volleyball, Swim, Football Move To ‘Floating’ Season

Photo: There will be a fall sports season at Belmont High School.

There will be Belmont High student/athletes playing this fall at Harris Field and on the links this fall as the athletic directors of the Middlesex League have approved their schools playing boys and girls soccer, field hockey, boys golf and boys and girls cross country, according to Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan who announced the decision at Wednesday, Sept. 2 School Committee marathon meeting.

But volleyball and swimming will be moving with football and competitive cheer to the newly created “floating” season that starts during the final weeks of February and ending in April.

School superintendents and athletic directors that represent Middlesex League schools approved a league-wide response to move forward with a fall season. It has been reported that Belmont will compete twice against teams in the league’s Liberty Division – Arlington, Winchester, Reading, Lexington, and Woburn – which will end for this year the annual competition against cross border rivals Watertown.

The decision by the Middlesex League comes as other athletic conferences such as the Mayflower and South Coast leagues on the South Shore and the nearby Northeastern Conference have canceled their fall schedule and moved it to the floating season, with the hope that the modifications would be suspended with changes in the severity of COVID-19.

While Belmont will be playing this fall, some of the sports will look quite different. Field hockey will now be played seven-against-seven – under normal conditions, there are 11 on each team – while penalty corners which are an important part of the game have been banned.

Soccer will see corner kicks and sideline throw-ins ended, reduced to free kicks that can not be sent into the goalie’s area. Defensive walls that help goalies to protect against free kicks have been suspended. But the most significant ban will be the end of heading the ball.

Cross country will likely be a timed event where each participant starts a certain length of time – usually 30 seconds – from the next runner.

Ranked 4th, Belmont Field Hockey Host N. Andover In Playoff Opener, Wednesday at 3:30PM

Photo: Senior Katie Guden on the move vs. Winchester.

The Belmont High School Field Hockey squad will be looking skyward during the upcoming playoffs, not so much for heavenly intervention than looking for dark clouds.

Ranked 4th in the Division 1 North Sectionals, the Marauders – which finished the season at 13-2-1 – will host the 13th seed Scarlet Knights from North Andover (8-4-5) in an opening round match to be played on Harris Field on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m.

While a much lower seed, North Andover plays in the competitive Merrimack Valley Large conference and have been on a roll, having not lost since Oct. 2.

As for the weather, the Marauders have discovered a drenching rain and its style of play is like mixing water and oil. Belmont’s two losses, against top-ranked Watertown (3-1) and Lexington (2-1), occurred during downpours when the Marauders’ strong defense and pass oriented offense were damped down by the wet weather. It didn’t help that the Marauders missed open chances in both games while in each match senior co-capt. Emma Donough hit the post on penalty corners.

From left: Sophomore Sajni Sheth-Voss, Guden and senior Emma Donahue attack the penalty corner.

“It really puts off our game,” said Belmont Head Coach Jess Smith, who has led the Marauders into the playoff for the seventh consecutive season and 13 out of the past 14 years.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Belmont’s Senior Night game vs. Arlington on Oct. in a driving rain would be a close one. Despite defeating the SpyPonders 3-0 earlier in the year, Arlington have improved as the season has gone by securing its first playoff appearance since 2013 and coming into the game at 9-5-0.

While Belmont had only given up nine goals for the season, Arlington got on the front foot with three goals off break outs to lead Belmont, 3-2, at the half. But an early goal by sophomore attack Mia Meyers got the game level and Belmont would go ahead 4-2 by senior midfield co-captain Katie Guden on a scramble in the middle on a delayed call. Junior Goalie Kendall Whalen kept the Marauders in the lead on an outstanding boot save that landed into her pads before being swept away. Belmont finished the scoring with a tip by junior attack Emma O’Donovan off a blast from Donahue on the penalty corner after time had expired.

Senior Meaghan Noone prepares to start the penalty corner.

“This is a game that we needed. We didn’t panic when we were behind at the break and then took the play to Arlington,” said Smith.

After the Lexington loss, Belmont bounced back vs Winchester in a holiday matinee Oct. 14. In the bright sunshine, Belmont’s defense was stellar led by co-capt. defender Meaghan Noone who ran down and beat back countless chances. The Marauders scored early, the first from Donahue sending a rocket into the net from just inside the shooting circle off the penalty corner eight minutes into the game with the second coming three minutes later from O’Donovan

At 13-2-1, Belmont goes into the playoffs with its second best record in program history (the third time they held this mark) and a home playoff game in the bag and another if they win the opener. But there is still work to be done, according to Smith.

“I think we let our guard down a little bit when we’re ahead in games. I think we’ve been watching the ball a little bit too much and not really marking the kids down low and some easy goals are going in,” said Smith.

Junior Emma O’Donovan leads the attack vs. Winchester.

Field Hockey Can’t Get By Watertown (Again) As Team Prepares For Two Critical Matches

Photo: Emma O’Donovan is fouled by the Watertown goalie resulting in a penalty stroke goal by Emma Donahue for Belmont’s goal.

You could hear the sharp “thud” of the ball struck by Belmont High midfielder Emma Donahue off a penalty corner hit the back of the Watertown net across the entirety of Victory Field. It was just the start Belmont had dreamed of against the perennial Div. 2 state finalists: Five minutes into the game played during a downpour and the Marauders on the front foot in its match with the Raiders.

But rather than a celebration (or disappointment from the Raiders’ perspective), players, officials, coaches and just about everyone just … stopped. The ball had immediately ricocheted out into the field and for that second, it appeared everyone questioned what happened. A goal? Maybe?

When the officials made no indication one way or the other, the Raiders took the ball down the field and the game continued as if the entire sequence had been washed away in the rain. (The officials said they believed the ball had hit the right post.) What should have been the momentum Belmont needed to defeat Watertown for the first time in over a decade was not to be as the Marauders would fall to the Raiders, 3-1, on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

For Belmont Head Coach Jess Smith, the game came down to little advantages that Watertown had over the Marauders.

“I felt like they moved the ball a little bit better than we did today and a better sense of where the next pass should go,” said Smith.

The weather played havoc and resulted in the Raiders’ first goal as Belmont’s all-star defender Meaghan Noone lost her stick during a check which allowed Watertown to outman Belmont in front of the net and allowed for a scoop shot for a goal in close. The Raiders would double its margin off a penalty corner.

Donahue – who is a niece of Watertown’s Hall of Fame Coach Donahue – would get her goal on a penalty stroke after a foul by the Watertown goalie on Belmont’s top scorer Emma O’Donovan to bring Belmont within one, 2-1, four minutes into the second half. And the Marauders were a touch of a stick from knotting up the match a minute later when a screamer squeaked by the Raiders’ goalpost.

But that flurry would the best Belmont could muster as Watertown put nearly everything in its defensive coverage while taking advantage of overlapping the player with the ball.

The final Raider tally came from a penalty corner midway through the half.

Smith said especially in the second half her team wasn’t playing its typical game that relays on moving the ball upfield with medium to short passes and long solo runs. “We were trying to beat the other players with our sticks rather than passing it.”

Belmont would recover nicely the next day, Thursday, Oct. 3 when a rejuvenated Wakefield squad arrived at Harris for a game under the lights. Coming into the tussle on a seven-game winning streak, the Warriors had the first shot on net in the opening minutes.

MVP Candidate Katie Guden

Then Belmont reverted back to the crisp passing, dominating defense squad with senior co-captain Katie Guden showing why she is a candidate for Middlesex League MVP by dominating the pitch. Three goals in the first 13 minutes that included a pair by Guden iwth one an end to end solo rush that ended with a goal from more than 10 meters on the run.

It was a game that role players made their mark on the field including senior Ilana Gut who scored her first goal of the season while Ellie McLaughlin got back on the scoring sheet, joining her fellow sophomore Molly Dacey who tallied a brace.

Belmont won 6-0 for its seventh shut out in 10 games, as goalies Molly Calkin and Kendall Whalen shared the victory.

After a match with Burlington on Monday, Oct. 7, the Marauders will have back-to-back matches with squads at the top of the Middlesex Liberty league table with a trip to Lexington (9-2-1) on Friday, Oct. 11 at 3:30 p.m. then an early (10 a.m.) morning contest on the Monday Holiday with Winchester (8-2-0) at Harris.

It’s a second meeting with both opponents – Belmont battled the Minutemen to a 1-1 tie and beat the Sachems, 2-1, in a comeback win at Winny – with a league title on the line with a pair of victories securing a banner (or what will hang in the Wenner Field House once the construction is sorted out.)

Unbeaten Belmont Field Hockey Enters Top 10 After Week Of Big Wins

Photo: Katie Guden turns to the attack.

Belmont High Field Hockey has been making news this past week.

After traveling to Winchester a week ago Monday and beating, 2-1, a squad ranked in the state and New England then continuing its unbeaten streak with shutout victories over Reading (3-0), Winchester (6-0) and Arlington (3-0), the Marauders (6-0-1) have secured a place in the rarified air on the Boston Globe’s Top 20 poll coming from outside the rankings to land at number 9.

Not bad for a team that was overlooked when the season began by apparently everyone who follows field hockey in the region.

But it shouldn’t have been that difficult to see the Marauders is a team you ignored at your peril. Belmont returned three Middlesex League All-Stars – co-captains Katie Guden, Emma Donahue and Meaghan Noone, each committed to Division 1 college programs – who have dominated the midfield and defensive ends whether going forward and protecting the net. And in net are a pair of keepers; veteran senior Molly Calkin and junior newbie Kendall Whalen, who have surrendered just single goal each.

The surprise this season has been the youngsters on the team, a quartet of sophomores in Molly Dacey, Ellie McLaughlin, Sajni Sheth-Voss and Mia Mueller who have become mainstays on the first 11 with McLaughlin becoming a scoring threat.

Add to that one of the leading scorers in the league in junior Emma O’Donovan along with juniors Olympia and Sophie Kalavantis and Ally Donahue in midfield roles and a bench in which each player can be slotted seamlessly into several positions on the field. All this gives head coach Jessica Smith a team that will do some damage in the D1North sectionals.

During a Saturday matinee match with Wilmington, O’Donovan scored four times while McLaughlin marshaled a pair while the defense allowed only two shots on goal.

Belmont is already looking towards the annual rivalry match with powerhouse Watertown. Last season, Belmont outplayed the Raiders (12 shots to 3, four times the number of penalty corners) yet came away empty handed losing 2-0.

Unbeaten Belmont Field Hockey ‘Keepers Stand Tall In Tie With Ranked Lexington

Photo: (from left) Belmont’s Sajni Sheth-Voss, Emma Donahue, Kendall Whalen, Katie Guden and Meaghan Noone defending a penalty corner in Belmont’s 1-1 draw with Lexington.

With time running down in Saturday’s matinee against Lexington, Belmont High Field Hockey junior goalie Kendall Whalen was taken by surprise when what appeared to be a routine long clearing ball by a Minuteman defender turned out to be anything but ordinary.

Just before the ball was hit, a Lexington forward had drifted behind the Marauders’ defense. She took the clearance and had a clean breakaway with only Whalen between her and a go-ahead goal.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my god. It’s tied and I have to save this’,” Whalen said after the game.

Belmont’s Molly Dacey out battles a Lexington defender for the ball.

While only in her third game ever as a field hockey goalie, Whalen has a great deal of experience in net having come off an impressive 2019 lacrosse season keeping goal for Belmont, and one of the main reasons the Marauders nail down its first playoff appearance in seven years.

“[Lacrosse] really helped to understand where I need to be positioned and when to step up or when to hold back,” said Whalen.

So when the Minuteman player fired a low shot just to her left, Whalen had already reacted and got a boot on the ball to steer it wide of the net.

“I went for it, cut off her angle which rushed her shot which I cleared,” said Whalen who along with senior goalie Molly Calkin secured Belmont’s 1-1 “kiss your cousin” tie with the Minutemen (2-1-1) ranked 8th in the Boston Globe Top 20.

Belmont’s midfielder Mia Mueller.

The goaltending pairing – each plays a half in the games – has worked well for each, said Calkin a returning varsity player who stopped three inclose scoring changes with a new aggressive style.

“During practice, Kendall challenges me to play well and do stuff that I hadn’t done last year,” she said. “I think last year, I kind of lacked confidence that I should have had. This year, I’m taking a different approach and claim what’s mine in front of the net.”

Saturday’s game saw Belmont (2-0-1) never quite shifting its play into top gear as it showed against Stoneham and Melrose. For Belmont Head Coach Jessica Smith, the blame can be laid at the feet of the schedulers.

“Saturday games seems to take us all out of our routine. They don’t go to school, do their homework and prepare the same way. It’s like they’re not as focused as they are during the week,” said Smith.

After falling behind 1-0 on the first shot on Belmont’s net this season five minutes into the game, the Marauders slowly regained control of the offense thorugh the midfield led by senior co-captains Katie Guden and Emma Donahue while fellow senior Meaghan Noone who acted like a Hoover along the backline.

Belmont’s Katie Guden (14) shots towards Emma O’Donovan who redirected the ball into the net for the Marauders’ goal.

Belmont broke through with just under five minutes remaining in the opening half on a sweet combination of passes as sophomore Mia Mueller pushed the ball to Guden who sent a rocket towards junior Emma O’Donovan stationed in front of the goalie. O’Donovan redirected the airborne ball into the open left side of the net, scoring her fifth goal of the young season.

Belmont had its chances throughout the game including when a long strike outside the attacking circle hit the post and ricocheted towards a streaking O’Donovan who was just beaten out to the ball by the goalie. And it appeared that Belmont had scored a potential game winner with about six minutes remaining but an official did not allow play to continue after a minor infraction which the rules state but rather forced a restart nullifying what should have been O’Donovan’s second.

Ellie McLaughlin (16) and Emma O’Donovan bottle up Lexington all-star Katie Devine.

Belmont midfielders did a great job of bottling up Lexington’s star junior Katie Devine to prevent the league all-star from sending shots into the attacking zone while each of Belmont’s four sophomores – Molly Dacey, Ellie McLaughlin, Sajni Sheth-Voss and Mueller – played significant minutes with solid results.

“I’ll take a tie after the team played so poorly,” said Smith.

Belmont 2, Melrose 0

Earlier in the week, Belmont opened its home account with a solid 2-0 victory over Melrose on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

The scoring breakthrough came late in the first half off a penalty corner as McLaughlin gathered a rebound to the left of the goal and send a pass that snuck by to the right post where Noone stuffed the ball in. And fellow senior forward Nuritza Diarbakerly scored her first varsity goal with a tap in along the right post late in the second half.

Meaghan. Noone (22) scores the opening goal against Melrose.

“We definitely needed another goal so we had to be more confident because we didn’t want this to end in a tie,” said Diarbakerly.

Belmont will be on the road Tuesday, Sept. 17, against the current Middlesex League leaders Winchester (4-0-0) ranked 6th by the Globe before hosting Reading on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Harris Field.