Decorating the inside of the bus whenever the team qualifies for the Div. 1 state final has become a tradition for the Walpole field hockey program.
Head coach Jen Quinn partook when she was a senior in 1990, drawing on posters and hanging pink streamers before eventually winning the state title. She’s been a Porkers assistant coach on eight of their 12 state champion teams, and all of them participated. Players can design however they want, though a sign on the back must read, “Honk if you love bacon.”
It’s a wonderful spectacle for coaches, a sort of coming-of-age moment Walpole players got to experience each of the last two seasons as the program broke a four-year finals hiatus. The anticipation to add their names to a long list of champions on the ride over was as thrilling as anything.
But the trip back, after losing each state final to Andover by a 1-0 score, was a different story.
“We actually started undecorating on the bus on the way home (last year),” Quinn said. “The loss is always tough, it’s never easy, but it’s just kind of how hard it hits. Some years they just want it down, they just start doing it on the bus on the way home. Other years they can’t bring themselves to take it down. … Oh my god, it’s brutal. That’s the end-all be-all. That’s the final it. There’s nothing else. We have other events too that come after, but nobody thinks of that. Pulling that down just kind of makes it all real.”
Senior Bryant-commit Kerin Birch – who started on each of those finalist teams – can recite every year the program won the state title.
It’s not just because she’s loved the Porkers since she was 6 years old, but because the championship banners line the gymnasium. Reminders are elsewhere, while some adults and classmates in the school innocently joke about how long it’s been since the program last won it all in 2016.
They might not understand the feeling of eternity that six years weighs on the Porkers. But Birch and senior defender Katie Colleran do.
“It’s definitely a bummer,” Birch said. “We’re right there. We’re knocking on the door. … There’s so much stuff all around that reminds me (we haven’t won). Even when it was lacrosse season, my offseason in the winter – I never forget about it.”
“Getting out in the state championship two years in a row is just, we need to get it done,” Colleran added. “I think about a lot. … It’s kind of been a long time.”
Teammates tease Birch, who has driven the 40 or so minutes to Burlington on her own four or five times since the last state title loss – just to remind herself of the anticipation, excitement and heartbreak she felt.
She’s a bit obsessed. But truth be told, a whole team of returning key players is fixated on righting the wrong.
While other programs use a modest, game-by-game philosophy, Walpole doesn’t shy away from a goal it’s historically achieved. Frequently.
Nine of the 10 Porkers coaches are alumni, and all 10 have won a state title. Everyone directly talks about a championship often – in both team meetings and casual conversation. There’s not one person who isn’t starved for it.
After all, these six years match the longest the program has ever gone without winning a championship. Fourteen seniors and a large handful of returners have the sour taste of losing the last two years. Quinn still feels robbed from 2018 and 2019 by the co-ed Somerset Berkley teams that won it all, too. Anticipation has built.
There’s no pressure to get over the hump – only an expectation to win. And at 15-1 with at least four goals in all but two games, and shutouts in all but five, Walpole is in perfect position. It has sat atop the MIAA Div. 1 power rankings all year, and no team outside of a 1-0 loss to Uxbridge has come within two goals of the Porkers.
“I look at all of (the seniors), they were there for two years in a row and didn’t get it done,” Quinn said. “I think this is a really big deal this year. … This year, it’s attainable. It definitely is attainable. Do I think it’s going to be a walk in the park? No. But they totally can win it.”
“It’s definitely that anticipation of revenge because a lot of us have been on the team since that first time we lost to Andover,” Birch added. “Having the same result the second year in a row, the exact same team, everything was just so – it honestly was a heart-breaker. … Everybody came back, agreed with (Colleran and I) that this is our year. We can’t lose again. We can’t do it.”
It’s not only about revenge, though.
Out of a list of traditions, Colleran can’t pick just one outside of simply being a Porker. It’s an honor that this class of 14 seniors grew into alongside each other, one they take a lot of pride in.
Winning a championship together would just be icing on the cake.
“Every single one of my coaches except (Sue Wick) was a Porker themselves and they all have state championships,” Colleran said. “It’s something they carry with them … I think of being able to hold that legacy for the Porkers and having your name on that banner. And I think we have the opportunity again this year.”
Junior twin sisters reunited on Friday, both being foreign-exchange students from Belgium who attend different schools. Jasmine Royen (Hingham) and Elise Royen (North Attleboro) played against each other as their respective junior varsity teams clashed, marking just the second time the two have seen each other since arriving in August.
“That was pretty awesome,” said Hingham head coach Susan Petrie. “So glad it worked out.” …
A tight, four-team Northeastern Conference title race finally came to an end Wednesday. Danvers’ dramatic win over two-time reigning champion Masconomet – on an expired-time corner – sealed the crown for the Falcons.
“The parity in the league, as well as it being all of (the players’) first-ever league title in any sport, makes it all the more special,” said head coach Kristen McCarthy.
Milton’s Ali Drane, rear, defends against Walpole’s Kerin Birch during Walpole’s field hockey victory Wednesday. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)