WATERTOWN – They have orange in common.
And, as it turns out, a whole lot of other things.
After several years of struggling to keep programs alive and competitive on opposite sheets of ice, Newton North and Newton South have combined forces for the first time this season to form the Newton varsity girls hockey team. The 22-player squad, with a slight edge in numbers of North girls, played Watertown to a 3-3 tie on Saturday at Ryan Rink before traveling to Waltham for the first official game in program history Monday night - a 2-1 loss to the Hawks - wearing orange-clad sweaters that highlight the shared color from the respective Tiger and Lion uniforms.
“I think it’s been great as far as coming together as one team,” said co-coach Amy Severance, who played collegiately at Division I Princeton University. “It was seamless. It didn’t even require a conversation. It was an expectation we set from the start of the season.
“We set the expectation. But a lot of the stuff is stuff the girls are doing. The group chats, the going out to dinner, the wearing their jerseys to school, that’s all them. They want to make this into something.”
The team brings together a North program that saw dwindling numbers in recent seasons to the point where it could not play its final game of last winter against Waltham, and the South program that had a co-op with Brookline in recent years. Prior to that, South skated each winter with the help of middle-school waivers. Now, finally, the two programs are together pursuing a common goal with players from all parts of the city.
“The expectation from the beginning was that we’re not North kids and South kids,” co-coach Scott Heslin said. “We’re Newton hockey. The girls bought into it right away and they are on board with it.”
Heslin and Severance are the co-head coaches with Heslin a former JV coach at North who is a dean at the high school, and Severance a teacher at Memorial Spaulding Elementary in the city’s southside. North teacher Patrick Coughlin, who also previously worked with North’s JV team, and South teacher and varsity field hockey coach Stephanie Pavao are the main assistants on a seven-person staff.
“It’s nice that we have people in the buildings checking on the kids,” Heslin said, “talking with the kids, and focused on keeping the energy level up, and keeping the kids excited about the sport.
“Being from the same city a lot of the girls know each other already. They have been playing youth hockey with each other. So it’s been pretty easy.”
The team has 14 returning players combined from both schools and eight new freshmen. The revamped program has even attracted back some girls who chose club hockey over the high school team last year. South players who were on the Brookline/Newton South team last year had the option of continuing to play in that program – which three of them did. Overall, the goal of the new program is to help the schools build something together on the ice that neither could do on its own.
“There were just not enough hockey players in the school,” said Heslin, whose JV program operated more as a “learn-to-skate” program where some girls eventually graduated to varsity action by their senior years. “North had eight girls coming back from last year. We have a pretty good freshman class, which is helping numbers. But if we had just our returning players, and South’s returning players, we probably would have only had about 14 kids between the two schools.”
The Newton program – which does not have a nickname as of yet – will play a Bay State Conference schedule with two non-league games against South’s old Dual County League rival Waltham, as well as Ursuline Academy, which South plays in field hockey and girls lacrosse as well.
“It’s going to be challenging,” said Severance, who previously coached at Norwell High. “You don’t look down the schedule and say: “That’s a win, that’s a win, that’s a win.’
“We’re going to have to be in it and working every game. But, if we go out and play like we can, we feel confident.”
Scott Souza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.