The Boston Globe

A concentrat­ion of power in Div.2

- By Trevor Hass GLOBE CORRESPOND­ENT Globe correspond­ent Lenny Rowe contribute­d to this report. Trevor Hass can be reached at

As she absorbed knowledge from the standout seniors on the Westwood girls’ lacrosse team last spring, Caroline Nozzolillo did so with both a focus on the present and an eye on the future.

She learned when and where to cut from now-UMass freshman Ava Connaughto­n. Olivia Williams, who plays at Vermont, stayed after practice to help her master the draw. Lil Hancock (UMass), Riley Harrington (Dartmouth), and Kella McGrail (Davidson) helped Nozzolillo improve her vision, knowledge, and mind-set.

“Having them as leaders brought my IQ up so much more,” Nozzolillo said. “I got to see the game through their eyes.”

For many teams, losing such talent would be insurmount­able; at Westwood, it’s business as usual. Ranked third in the Globe’s first Top 20 of the season, the Wolverines have 10 returnees and eight newcomers and are equipped to return to the pinnacle after falling one goal short against Lincoln-Sudbury in the 2023 Division 1 final.

As the Wolverines transition to Division 2 under new MIAA alignments, they know the adjustment will be far from a breeze. With the defending champion, top-ranked Notre Dame (Hingham), still looming large; No. 4 Reading, No. 10 Walpole, Longmeadow, and Hingham joining the division; and returners Duxbury (No. 18), Masconomet, and East Longmeadow still threats, Division 2 is arguably more stacked than Division 1.

Matt Gillis, director of athletics at Westwood, said “no one was more shocked” than he was when he learned he had missed the deadline for an appeal to move back up to Division 1. He spoke with Bob Baldwin, executive director at the MIAA, and Baldwin respectful­ly declined his tardy request. Gillis accepted that outcome.

“It’s my mistake,” Gillis said. “I missed the deadline.”

Westwood coach Margot Spatola indicated that if a Super Eight existed, Division 2 would have many representa­tives.

“No matter the division, we look to play the greatest competitio­n,” Spatola said. “That’s what makes us better, whether we win or lose. We’re just going to play. That’s all we can do.”

Nozzolillo, a junior committed to Brown, will take on an expanded role. She totaled 99 goals and 107 assists over her first two seasons, and now she’s switching from attack to midfield and adding draws to her repertoire.

She’ll have plenty of help, with senior defenders Hillary Noble and Ava Kelly, junior twin midfielder­s Charlotte and Emilie DeMaio, and sophomore midfielder Jenny Mackin in the mix.

“I feel like this year, the bar is still as high as it was last year,” Nozzolillo said. “We’re super excited to work toward that. We can see everything is starting to click, but we clearly have a lot more work to do.”

Reading is another team to keep an eye on in Division 2, as the Rockets hope to build off last year’s 22-2 record and run to the Division 1 semifinals. Their ascension may have been a bit of a surprise on the outside, but to those in the program, it was the product of years of buildup.

“At the beginning of the season, we set goals,” Reading coach Rachel Monroe said. “One of their goals was to make the final four. They had that in the back of their minds the entire season and had high expectatio­ns. We hope to continue and go even further this season.”

The Rockets will miss Class of 2023 catalysts Julia Barbato, Sam Maher, and Kate Leone, but junior Libby

Quinn (Vermont commit), junior Meg Shanahan (Marist), and senior captains Autumn Mathews (Bentley), Caroline Jadul (Bentley), and Lily Stanton (St. Lawrence) all return.

Jadul, Quinn, and Shanahan all poured in 50-plus goals a season ago, so there’s no shortage of firepower.

Several players helped guide the Rockets to a field hockey state title this fall, and Monroe believes that experience will pay dividends.

“They know what it’s like to have the pressure on and make it that far,” Monroe said. “They think that they know what it takes to be champions.”

NDA is as loaded as ever, with Clemson commit Jane Hilsabeck and Emma Connerty (North Carolina) anchoring a deep group. Walpole will lean on UMass commit Caitlyn Naughton, among others, and should be in the mix as well.

Last year, the Cougars coasted to a state title, outscoring their opponents 9521 during a dominant playoff run. This year, they may end up repeating, but the path to get there will almost certainly be more daunting.

“The makeup of D2 is pretty wild,” Walpole coach Mike Tosone said.

Quick sticks

In Division 1, seventh-ranked Wellesley is expected to be a tough opponent with a blend of college commits and skilled younger players throughout the roster.

Coach Steve Balter feels this group is deep, with strong senior leadership.

“Everything for us starts on defense, and we have great goaltendin­g with Bryce Lane, our junior Colgate commit,” Balter said. “In front of her, we bring back three senior starting defenders, Eliza Chapman, McKay Pratt, and Caleigh Renzella, who are all tremendous athletes, fierce competitor­s, and three of our five captains.

Wellesley’s other senior captains are midfielder Alex Papavasill­iou and attacker Charlotte Kondi. Seniors Riley Gailun (attack) and Mia Fazendeiro (defense) round out a strong group of leaders.

Junior Kaitlyn Uller (59 goals, 23 assists last season), has been a standout midfielder since the first day of her freshman season. Junior midfielder Emily Munchak continues to improve and plays key roles in the midfield and on the attack. Junior Olivia Comella returns as an X attacker, and juniors Rachel Riseberg and Emery McGraw round out a formidable defense.

“Our super sophomores are fun to watch. Alexa Heller, Abby Beggans, and Tara Battaglino are all tall, fast, and extremely athletic,” said Balter.

R In Division 3, Abi Moynihan is the new coach at Pembroke. A defender at Stonehill College from 2019-23, she is a 2019 graduate of Apponequet . . . Ryan Heffron, a 2018 graduate of Malden Catholic, coached the Lancers to an 8-6 win over St. Mary’s in his coaching debut . . . Hanover senior captain Eva Kelliher earned her 100th career point in an 11-4 win over Marshfield . . . Junior Emily Keefe recorded her 100th career goal for Bridgewate­r-Raynham.

 ?? DANIELLE PARHIZKARA­N/GLOBE STAFF ?? Caroline Nozzolillo will take on a leading role for Westwood this season.
DANIELLE PARHIZKARA­N/GLOBE STAFF Caroline Nozzolillo will take on a leading role for Westwood this season.
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