Griffin Leads Belmont Boys’ Hockey Into D1 Quarterfinals With 3-1 Victory Over Marshfield

Photo: Belmont High Senior Ryan Griffin in action.

A good goalie will keep a team in the game. A great goalie will lead it to a championship.

On Wednesday afternoon, March 9, Belmont High senior goaltender and co-capt.Ryan Griffin demonstrated once again the elevated level of first-rate quality and coolness under pressure which is the backbone of Belmont’s season in leading the Marauders’ past Marshfield, 3-1, in the “sweet sixteen” round of the MIAA State Division 1 playoffs.

“Ryan Griffin just stood tall today,” said said Tim Foley, Belmont’s first year head coach after the “home” game played in Woburn [The “Skip,” Belmont’s home rink, was considered too small to accommodate supporters and students from both schools].

“[Ryan] just works hard,” said Foley. “He’s focused. He’s a guy that we know is back there. And he’s a momentum breaker. I’ve been saying this all year; teams come in and try to break him and they haven’t been able to.”

“My defense does a great job of getting guys coming to the net,” Griffin said postgame. “So I knew that if I could just make the first save, they could clear them out.”

The victory sends the 7th-ranked Marauders’ (18-1-3) into the Elite Eight quarterfinals against second-seed Xaverian Brothers High School (18-3-1). The game will take place at New England Sports Village in Attleboro, on Saturday, March 12 at 2 p.m. Only online tickets will be accepted. Tickets can be ordered at gofer.co

The matinee contest started with Belmont’s stellar defense – giving up 25 goals in 22 games – not allowing the motivated, if not as technically adept, Rams to establish a cohesive offense while the Belmont attack, fronted by the first line of senior Matty Rowen and juniors Shay Donahue and Cam Fici, forced Marshfield to focus all its attention on trying to hamper Belmont’s high scoring trio.

While looking dangerous early one, it was only a matter of time before Belmont struck first when Rowen swept a blocked shot past a surprised Brady Quackenbush, Marshfield’s junior goaltender.

By the second 15 minutes, Marshfield upped the tempo in an attempt to out hustle the Marauders which they did with ever greater success. Led by the Rams’ man-of-the-match sophomore Tommy Carroll, Marshfield took the game to the Marauders. By the end of the period, Belmont was finding opening for the counter coming off its defensive scheme. Yet it was Marshfield who nearly found an opening late in the period but Griffen stoned the Rams’ Cam McGettrick who saw his open net attempt blocked away by Belmont’s senior net-minder.

Marshfield took advantage early in the final stanza of an interference call by scoring on the man advantage when a puck ping-ponged off a skate and the post to be knocked in by senior Colleen Doyle to tie it early in the third. With the Marshfield supporters – many wearing yellow safety vests – in high sprits, the Rams began flooding zone with attackers with the promise of taking the lead. But again Griffin was not to be beat from distance or when the scrum packed the crease.

But an unusual outcome from an attempted clearing pass from deep in the Marshfield end would result in the game winner for Belmont. A defender’s lofting shot hit one of the banners hanging over center ice resulting in a face-off in the Rams’ zone. Rowen won the face-off and, bang-bang, Donahue slipped it by Quackenbush from the slot to recapture the lead, 2-1.

“When an opponent gets a face-off in their own zone … we try to make the team pay for that,” said Foley. “We want to make sure we take advantage of every offensive end face-off because we know we have Griffin in the net.”

Soon after the goal, Belmont benefited from a Rams’ roughing call on Fici and the subsequent power play. After the conclusion of the man advantage, Belmont’s defense rose to the occasion. For the remainder of the seven minutes of the game, the Marauders essentially playing pitch and catch with the Rams, intercepting passes and stealing pucks off the sticks and dumping it back into the Marshfield zone.

For the third game running, Belmont faced a team willing to gamble on pulling their goalie. And the Marauders made them pay as Fici sent a long distance volley into the back of the net for the 3-1 final.

“We weren’t playing as well as we have been but they just find a way to win. I don’t know how but we do,” said Foley. “We are looking forward to the game Saturday. We’ll go down there and we’ll compete as hard as we can and well see what end up.”

Belmont Hockey Sees Epic Playoff Run End As State Finals Cancelled, Named Co-Champs

Photo: Belmont High Head Ice Hockey Coach Fred Allard

In the locker room after a thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 victory over St. John’s (Shrewsbury) in the Division 1 North finals last Monday, Belmont High Head Coach Fred Allard ended his postgame talk to the players proclaiming “Practice tomorrow at 3!”

“What that meant was our season is still going on and we still get to be together,” Allard said in an empty White Field House on Thursday afternoon, March 12, with the North trophy and title banner on a nearby table.

It also signified the team had punched its ticket to the TD Garden this Sunday to play for the program’s first ever state championship title.

But the the season-long goal of just having the opportunity of skating to the Belmont student section with a state championship trophy in hand would end with an email.

Two hour previous, after hard practice at the “Skip”, the starkness of the outside world entered the hockey sphere when, due to the growing threat of a global pandemic, the MIAA announced it had cancelled the Division 1 state finals against Walpole.

The consolation for the Marauders was being declared co-champions with the Rebels. But it wasn’t much solace for the Belmont players to share a title that they couldn’t play for.

“We had just gotten off the ice so everyone was in the room,” said Allard. The squad’s reaction to the announcement was heartbreaking.

“These guys were more crushed than past teams who lost to St. John’s Prep four years ago and to Waltham (losing in overtime in the North semifinals in 2018). And they were just announced as co champs of the state!” said Allard. “That’s how all in they were because it’s such a special experience.”

“It was emotional and they were devastated. We talked our way through it. We shared some memories, we reminisced on what we accomplished and hopefully the healing process of the initial pain is starting to wear off.”

As late as Thursday morning, Allard still believed the team would be on a bus Sunday heading to the Garden in Boston’s North End.

“I was thinking we got practice on Friday and Saturday and hopefully the dust will settle and we’ll get this [game] in,” he said.

On Tuesday, the powers that be were hell bent on playing the six state finals on Sunday, but all that changed Wednesday when the Coronavirus was accelerating through all segments of society including sports. In just a day, professional sports leagues announced the cancellation or suspension of their seasons.

“That’s when the [MIAA] were obviously becoming more concerned for the safety of the kids, which was the right thing,” said Allard.

By early Thursday afternoon, the NCAA cancelled their winter championships including the entire “March Madness” basketball tournament, the Boston Marathon was looking for an autumn date to the run the race and states were prohibiting large gatherings.

“Our hope was that the worse case would be playing the finals at [six] separate sites and not just at the Garden,” Allard said.

“The kids worked so hard to get to this point. They just wanted to play.”

CHAMPS AGAIN: Belmont Girls’ Rugby Repeat As State Champions Defeating Lincoln Sudbury

Photo: Senior Jess Rosenstein raise the state championship trophy.

Belmont High Girls’ Rugby Head Coach Kate McCabe huddled with her team just before the beginning of the second half of the state championship finals against Lincoln Sudbury Regional. Trailing 10-8, Belmont had been outplayed by the Warriors for long stretches of the match held at Newton South High School.

“Right now Lincoln Sudbury wants this game,” she told the team, looking at each player as she spoke. “I want you to want this game more. I want you to want to win this game,” said McCabe, imploring her squad to win each encounter on the field both as individuals and as a team. Now’s the time, she told them, to have the desire to win a state title.

And the Marauders responded with a dominating hard-fought second half punctuated with a pair of inspired trys by junior flyhalf Gabriella “Gabby” Viale – adding to her first-half strike – to defeat Lincoln-Sudbury, 20-10, to repeat as MIAA Division 1 state girls’ rugby champions.

“I can’t say enough about this team. They rose to the occasion when [the game] was on the line,” said McCabe after celebrating with her team with the state tournament trophy.

“I can’t describe it,” said team captain senior scrumhalf Jess Rosenstein who accepted the state championship trophy with fellow senior center Kiera Booth. “It’s great,” she said, pointing out the victory was due to a true team effort. “It’s all our[s] [championship].”

Top seed Belmont (8-0) won the two regular-season games against second-ranked Lincoln Sudbury (5-3) by five (17-12) and two points (14-12) in physical contests and the championship match played in sporadic sprinkles under overcast skies was just as rough and tumble as the previous matches. And it was the Warriors that took the game to the Marauders, keeping control of the ball while threatening to break runs from the back.

When Belmont did have the ball, it was losing possession in the ruck – when a player must release the ball after being tackled – as the Warriors moved the Marauders off the ball. 

“That was a sticking point which we had worked on so we knew that was going to happen,” said McCabe. “LS really pressured us on our first pass from the ruck and scrum and that took away our options.” 

Lincoln Sudbury struck first when junior center Shelley Zuckerman romped around Belmont’s right end to score the first of her two tries in the half to give the Warriors a 5-0 lead. 

Belmont responded on a flukish play as the Marauders’ drove the ball within 10 meters to the goal when a quick stoppage had both teams suddenly stop play. The only player to realize that the ball was free was Viale to picked it up and ran to try. The conversion attempt from an acute angle by junior lock Johanna Matulonis was missed to leave the game level at 5-5.

“I had these opportunities. I saw it and I had to go,” said Viale who has scored in consecutive championship games.

Belmont took a lead on Matunlonis’ penalty kick from nearly 22 meters with the wind to her back. That lead was shortlived as Zuckerman scored her second from 20 meters out to give the Warriors a 10-8 lead into the half. 

The Warriors came out of the half on fire as it quickly drove the ball to the Belmont 10 meters and then nearly scored on a solo run after a Marauder defensive kick, but for a last-gasp stop by junior fullback Clare Martin.

“Clare Martin was making amazing tackles all game, some were try-saving tackles,” said McCabe.

But once it weathered the assault, Belmont put its stamp on the game, retaining control and drove to the Warrior’s try line. Belmont came close to scoring, once losing the ruck within 5 meters to the line and once crossing the try line but did not touch the ball to the ground. The Marauders kept control in the Warriors’ end despite junior lock Sam Dignan being sent for 10 minutes to the “sin bin” with a yellow card. Both teams would soon be playing 14 aside when a Warrior was sent off with her own yellow.

The constant pressure Belmont placed on Lincoln Sudbury by running straight at its front line by junior 8-man Grace Christensen, Matulonis and sophomore prop Madeline Mulken finally gave Belmont open space along the flanks and Viale capitalized by taking a final pass down the right side to outpace the Warrior defenders to sweep 20 meters into try midway in the half. Matulonis’s successful conversion gave Belmont a 15-10 lead. 

The remainder of the half saw a tiring Warrior team unable to break Belmont’s defense, only passing the half line once in the final 18 minutes. Belmont once again drove into the offensive zone, keeping possession for a majority of the last minutes. After a penalty on the Warriors 25 meters from the try line, Viale quickly restarted play with a “tap-and-go” and ran by the Lincoln Sudbury defenders for her final try giving Belmont an insurmountable 20-10 margin with less than four minutes to play.

“I couldn’t have done it without the work of my teammates,” said Viale.

“Lincoln Sudbury was phenomenal today. At times we lost our focus that potentially could have changed the entire game,” said McCabe. “But at halftime, I asked them to make a difference in the game. It was that desire, the willingness to own how each of them played which made the difference.” 

STATE CHAMPS! Belmont Takes Girls’ Rugby Title Over Algonquin

Photo: Smiles from the Belmont High Girls Rugby, state champions.

Belmont High School Girls’ Head Coach Kate McCabe told her team during the season that “offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”

McCabe’s adage turned out to be spot-on prophetic as the Marauders used a punishing defense to propel its offense to  17 unanswered points as Belmont defeated Algonquin Regional High School, 17-14, to win the inaugural MIAA Girls’ Rugby State Championship on a hot Saturday afternoon at Endicott College, June 10.

After falling behind 14-0 in the first 25 minutes, the Marauders’ used a “no stars” team approach to claw back into the game, sparked by two pivotal plays by a pair of sophomores and the determined leadership of a group of graduated seniors.

“There is not a girl that has been playing with us this entire season that doesn’t deserve credit for what we did out there,” said senior captain Sara Nelson who three years ago was one of the original players who helped started the girls’ program.

“It’s such a team effort, and I love them all,” said Nelson.

“I’m so excited for them,” said McCabe walking off the field with the state championship trophy in her hands.

“They worked so hard; they really wanted it especially the senior class. They made [the state championship] their goal, and I’m just thrilled they got it,” said McCabe, which included Anne Baker, Molly Goldberg, Aisling Madden, Georgia Parsons, Mariel Somers and Nelson.

Not only was the game the first ever state championship for the Girls’ (as well as two divisions of Boys’) it was a historic game as it was the first title game in the US sponsored by a state high school interscholastic association. It is hoped that the championships will spur other state associations to add rugby – the fastest growing high school and college sport in the US – to its list of varsity sports.

Not that Belmont made it easy on themselves to take the championship as the first 25 minutes found the Marauders’ digging a fairly deep hole for themselves as early mistakes and inability to stop the T-Hawks backs resulted in a quick 14-0 deficit. Algonquin’s senior fullback Kendall Scholl found herself turning the corner on Belmont’s defense to score a long distance try only four minutes into the game.

The match-up was following a familiar script of the previous two meetings between the teams – Belmont won 20-10 away and tied the T-Hawks 10-1o at Harris Field – in which Algonquin started out strong scoring the first try. 

For nearly the remainder of the half, Belmont had its back to the goal line. After one stellar defensive stance in which the Marauders stopped Algonquin for more than two minutes from within five meters, the T-Hawks pushed Belmont back so its big front line player Charlotte DiGovanni could fall forward with a disputed try as many saw the ball fall out of her hands before it was touched down with 11 minutes to play.

“We did not make it easy on ourselves, that is for sure,” said McCabe. “I think that first half we played a little afraid. We didn’t want to make mistakes, but we made a lot of mistakes.”

With time running down in the half, Algonquin would lose its best all-around player, senior Sam Dickie, to a shoulder injury. Soon after, Belmont would get the break they needed as sophomore fullback Gabriella Viale took the ball from 25 meters out and ran through the T-Hawk line for an uncontested try with no time on referee Kelly Craven’s watch to cut the lead to 14-7 at the half.

“I just saw a gap, and I took it,” said Viale.

McCabe said Belmont needed to take more chances in the final 35 minutes which the Marauders did, stealing a pair of critical scrums and advancing the ball within five meters of the goal 10 minutes into the half but lost possession to an infraction.

But the subsequent kick by Algonquin – a team can advance down the field by kicking it up the pitch and out of bounds – was caught by Belmont’s sophomore right wing Hannah Hlotyak who scampered up the sideline 20 meters. Less than a minute later, senior “8” Georgia Parsons powered through a slew of Algonquin players for Belmont’s second try.

“I told myself that I was going to score try, try to score more than one,” said Parsons, whose ankle was tightly wrapped after injuring it three days before the game. Parson – who was the varsity soccer goalkeeper in the fall – missed the conversion to bring the score to 14-12. 

Belmont continued to press Algonquin on both offense and defense as the T-Hawks tired considerably, unable to move the ball effectively against a Marauder defense which each player called out assignments. Many times Algonquin players could only hand off the ball as there was no room to maneuver.

On offense, junior scrum half Jessica Rosenstein – who takes the ball from the scrum and delivers it to the backs – was quarterbacking the offense with spot-on back passes while junior flanker Kailee Pellicane had a series of punishing runs while doing the dirty work of clearing out Algonquin players attempting to steal the ball after a Belmont runner was tackled. 

Up front, the forwards, lead by the senior Head Prop duo of Baker and Goldberg supported by sophomore Locks Grace Christensen and Samantha Dignan and flankers; senior Somers and Pellicane dominated the scrums and rucks which left the Algonquin front line exhausted for most of the second half.

With 17 minutes remaining, Belmont moved to its left where they found room to run. Sophomore Amanda Hanley took the ball on a 25-meter romp to inside five meters where junior Rachel Iler-Keniston picked up the ball and dove in for the try. The conversion from the acute angle failed to give Belmont a slim 17-14 lead.

Six minutes later, Algonquin came close to turning the table on Belmont as a quick restart saw a T-Hawk fullback break through an opening into the clear. With only open turf between her and the end zone, it appeared she was going in for a sure tying try when Viale ran her down with a game-saving tackle 15 meters from the goal line. 

“I saw the girl break away and I was like, ‘you’re no getting past me,’ and I went for it,” said Viale who competes in winter track. 

That would be as close Algonquin would come to scoring as Belmont’s fly backs began picking up large chunks of real estate while substitutes such as Heather Swanson contributed by making a critical steal from an Algonquin ruck. 

After the field clock had stopped at two minutes for what seemed to be 10 minutes and with Craven looking at her watch, Rosenstein kicked the ball out of touch after a penalty. It was then the final whistle blew, and after a few seconds of drained relief, the celebration began. Each player received a championship medal, and Nelson accepted the state championship trophy with the coaches. After photos of them with the trophy and banner, the entire team then ran through a “tunnel of honor” created by supporters and several members of the boys’ team who came to cheer the girls.

McCabe said for Belmont, the victory is vindication for the seniors who came out as sophomores to start what was then a fairly unknown sport for girls in the state. 

“For girls’ rugby, I hope this starts a trend., I hope more schools have girl rugby teams. I hope we see more really tough games like this. The fans were going crazy. It was a great game of rugby,” she said.

When asked what it was like winning a state championship, “it had not sunk in yet” said Nelson with a beaming smile and tears in her eyes.