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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

KP Girls Hockey Team Aiming for Tourney Success

King Philip’s captains are, from left, Ryley Ryan, Mara Boldy, Kelly Holmes and Nikki McDonald.

By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer

The King Philip girls hockey team is eager to end its early exits from the state tournament.

Two years ago, the Warriors were seeded third but lost in the first round to Norwell. Last year, Lincoln-Sudbury ended KP’s post-season play when it downed the Warriors in its opening-round game.

Coach Ken Assad, who takes his team’s schedule one game at a time, is also tired of the early eliminations.

“To go further in the tournament the team will need to get through the excitement and pressure the tournament offers, especially the first game,’’ Assad said. “And, as a coaching staff, we need to prepare them better to get through these challenges.

“As a team, it’s frustrating not to get past the first round but the schedule we set up is challenging and it’ll prepare us for the post-season. We play at a high-level against our non-league opponents and we need to continue that level of play going into the tournament if we’re to advance.’’

The Warriors have three objectives for the current campaign and it’s not surprising that the words “qualify and go deep’’ are included. “We want to win the Hockomock League title, qualify and go deep in the tourney and get our younger players to buy in and contribute,’’ Assad emphasized.

Team strengths can often indicate what type of season a team might have. In KP’s case, 2023-24 just might provide a happier ending than the previous two years.

“We’re young but we’ve got 14 players returning with experience,’’ Assad said. “We’ve also got depth, a high hockey IQ, speed and quickness. We’re strong and deep on defense and we’ve got balance on three lines.’’

KP’s captains are all seniors and they’re talented. They include center Kelly Holmes, forward Nikki McDonald, defenseman Mara Boldy and forward Ryley Ryan (assistant captain).

“Kelly was the leading scorer in the league last season with 34 goals and 18 assists,’’ Assad said. “She’s got a high hockey IQ, sees the ice well and has great instincts. Nikki had 12 goals and 14 assists last year. She’s got speed and she’s determined to get to the open areas in front of the net. Mara had 3 goals and 8 assists. She’s tenacious and moves the puck effectively. Ryley was injured last year, missing half the season. She’s strong in the corners, has net presence, is aggressive and is a team-first player.’’

The captains have different leadership styles. “Kelly leads by example, Nikki and Mara communicate well and lead by example, and Ryley is vocal but also supportive,’’ Assad noted.

KP’s goaltending chores will be handled by sophomore Kiki Lynch with junior Kaitlyn Parrish serving in a back-up role. Lynch played five games on the varsity as an eight-grader and had a goals-against average of 0.91 and a save percentage of 96.

“Kiki is back after a year at Beaver Country Day,’’ Assad said. “She’s quick, covers the net well, and is instinctive. She’ll be a leader on the back end. Kaitlyn was the starting goalie for the field hockey team and likely will get playing time.’’

Four sophomores Assad will be counting on are forward Katie McGann, defensemen Lydia Maxwell and Grace Lehan-Allen, and forward-center Cam O’Shea.

“Katie had 7 goals and an assist last year, scoring goals in big moments,’’ Assad offered. “Her scoring should increase. Lydia had a goal and 8 assists last year. She’s a strong skater who has a physical net presence. She’s adept at moving the puck out of the defensive zone. Grace had five assists last year. She’s aggressive, moves the puck quickly and is stingy around the net. Cam has a high hockey IQ, is a good back-checker, and knows how to get to her position.’’

Six freshmen who’ve got experience and are improving include forwards Ella Morgan, Erin Steck, Rylan McKillop, Tayla McDuff and Molly Murphy, and defenseman Calleigh Brady.

“Ella (3 goals, 6 assists) has a knack to be in position,’’ Assad said. “She’s got a high hockey IQ and an ability to score. Erin is a hard-working left wing who has a good grasp of the game. Rylan scored a goal in the tourney against Lincoln-Sudbury and will continue to improve. Tayla has speed, is smart in the corners and can pass well. Molly is steady and will be a contributor. Calleigh played as an eight-grader and is battle-tested.’’ 

Five eighth-graders who’ll get ice time are defensemen Caitlyn McManus and Laney O’Shea, and forwards Tess Dangelo, Hadley Borst and Brooke Haltom. “They’re hard-workers, have a good hockey IQ, are coachable and will get playing time as the season moves along,’’ Assad said.

Winning the league crown will require strong efforts against defending champion Canton, and also Franklin. “Both have tradition and talent and they’re well-coached,’’ Assad said.

The challenging non-league schedule that Assad hopes will prepare his forces for the tourney are Needham, Nauset, Algonquin, Norwell, Westwood, Norwood and Dedham. At Local Town Pages deadline, the Warriors had a 1-1 record, beating Mansfield and losing to Needham.

KP’s assistant coaches are Tim Langevin (offense) and Cam Curley (defense). “They work hard, know the game and are supportive,’’ Assad said.

Assad’s coaching background is not only lengthy, but also impressive. He first coached in Franklin’s youth league and later served for 12 years as a junior-varsity and varsity assistant at Franklin High. He also coaches club hockey and helps with Franklin’s summer league teams.

In 1983, it was Assad’s overtime goal that broke a 4-4 tie against Falmouth and gave Franklin High its first state championship. In 2016, as an assistant to Chris Spillane, he experienced another state crown when Franklin defeated St. Mary’s of Lynn. 

Assad relies on a coaching philosophy that emphasizes winning, reaching one’s potential and having fun. “If our players are reaching their potential and enjoying their athletic endeavor, then winning will follow,’’ he said. “And, the life lessons I hope they learn are becoming quality teammates and leaders, overcoming adversity, and developing relationships.’’

KP’s on-ice style is all about being consistent on defense, forechecking and goal-tending. That’s a formula for a lengthy stay in the state tourney.