Caroline Fitzgerald put her hands on her knees and looked down at the carved up ice as the final horn sounded. Her team’s season was over, with no playoffs games or winning record to show for it. She looked around at her teammates defeated faces as they slowly and solemnly skated to the locker room. Her junior season had come to a sputtering and unimpressive end, her state champion victory felt like it occurred in a different lifetime, and she couldn’t get this horrible taste of failure out of her mouth. As she packed her hockey bag, untied her skates and took off her number ten Westwood jersey, she vowed to herself that she would never let herself or her teammates feel this way again.
When I sat down to write this article, the Westwood Wolverines were preparing to play the Canton Bulldogs in the D2 South Finals and the winner will had a chance to play for the state championship. “How did we get here?” you may find yourself asking. How does a team just a year removed from having to scratch and claw their way to a below .500 record have a shot at a state title? “Everyone came into this season hungry for one thing, a ring,” says Caroline Fitzgerald (who goes by a slew of nicknames, the most common being Fitzy). “We were unsatisfied with constantly losing.” The scrappy girls team only graduated a couple seniors last year, so with almost all of the team returning Fitzy saw this as an opportunity to create a lot of unity in the locker room by getting closer off the ice in hopes it would translate into on-ice chemistry.
The team began to spend time together in their street clothes instead of equipment, whether it was helping the community by feeding the homeless and teaching those with special needs to skate or just going out for ice cream together. “This year is different because we know each other better,” says the senior captain smiling. “This year we are better friends, we spend so much time off the ice going out to eat, hanging out, doing community service that it would be hard to not become best friends with everyone. We are a tight knit group and just we understand each other.”
As the season began, the team was faced with a challenge almost immediately as other senior captain–and the only player with as much varsity tenure as Fitzy– defenseman Simone Greenberg, went down with a foot injury causing her to miss serious time. However, the girls did not fold. The chemistry that had been built off the ice proved to pay off and underclassman began to step up in big ways. Sophomore goalie Caroline Mcdonough earned a starting job, and went on to allow just 26 goals in 25 games all year, including a incredible shutout performance against Austin Prep who was ranked number one in the state at the time. “I’ve never played with a harder working goalie than Caroline Mcdonough,” says Fitzy, “which is why I would say she is our unsung hero, our team’s fate lies with her and we more than believe in her. When your goalie is trusted you can play your game, and she allows us to do that.”
Sophomore Kat Keith also emerged as a key player, becoming the team’s leading scorer and most clutch performer. Fitzgerald declared she was the team MVP as “She never fails to execute. She’s the go to girl, she’s dependable.” As “the go to girl,” Kat Keith has scored five goals in the three playoff games, including a game winner in overtime against Wellesley and two jaw dropping coast to coast goals, one against Archbishop Williams and the other against Pembroke. Keith (who modestly says that she’s had just a couple lucky bounces this year), says that she doesn’t feel any pressure to produce in with the game on the line because “the overall feel of the team is that it is a team sport and anyone, on any given shift, can go out and make a difference. There is never a time where I feel pressured by the team or the coaches that if I don’t score no one else will.”
This idea of team first is the real secret behind this unexpected success. From the four AM wake-ups for practice to the community service, this team puts others before themselves. As Caroline Fitzgerald and her very motivated team’s attempt to make a run at Westwood’s second state championship in four years fell short, they are more united than ever. The season is ruled a success regardless of the fact they finished the season with a loss, as the girls have far surpassed expectations and left a positive impact on the community and each other’s life. The seniors have successfully laid the groundwork for winning for this incredibly young team riddled with promising sophomores and freshmen. These young girls now know exactly what leadership means and what a champion looks like, thanks to these terrific elder mentors.
Win or lose aside, the clock has struck zero in Caroline Fitzgerald’s hockey career, but it’s safe to say that the bad taste that was in her and her teammates’ mouths at the end of last year is officially washed out.