By Kevin Stone, Contributing Writer
SHREWSBURY – The season is underway for the co-op Shrewsbury girls hockey team.
After notching their first win of the year on Wednesday, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Head coach Frank Panarelli is in his 14th year with the team, which is currently a co-op program consisting of Shrewsbury, Milford, Westborough and Wachusett high school players. Milford is relatively new to the program while the partnership with Westborough and Wachusett has been in existence for years, Panarelli said.
The team has a balance of players of all ages, with five seniors, five juniors, eight sophomores and seven freshmen.
Captain Kaci Ryder and assistant captains Taylor Breen and Aislinn Bennett are charged with leading the team this year.
Fellow seniors Kara Persechino and Holly Catarius will also be contributing in terms of both the leadership and on-ice production.
They’ll do so two years after the 2019 Colonials squad went all the way to the Division I quarterfinals. With its experience and new talent, this team is looking to make that run again.
“Kaci Ryder actually just committed to Utica to play hockey,” said Panarelli. “Just a great player and on top of it a great kid, great leader and she’s closing in on 100 points, so hopefully she’ll get there soon.”
Panarelli celebrated the contributions of his other captains.
“She’s the leader of the defensemen,” he said of Bennett. “She’ll be playing college hockey – we don’t know where yet but it’ll be somewhere; she’s a force back there.”
“Taylor Breen is just a hard-working girl, kills penalties and is a great leader for these young kids to see,” he continued. “She’s a great leader on and off the ice.”
“Holly’s been with us four years and is another great producer and great leader. Same with Kara, a defenseman that’s just another great kid,” he added of his other seniors. “The most important thing is they’re all good kids and good role models for the younger girls.”
Taylor Ryder, along with Maddie Mrva, Katie Vona, Rachel Bunsick and Olivia Cutting, are this year’s juniors, looking to lead in their own way and looking to make sure that the seniors go out with a winning season.
The large sophomore class includes Risa Montoya, Natalie MacCausland, Kealy Fay, Bridget McLaughlin, Jessie Kenney, Paige Umile, Sadie Cusson and Maggie McManus.
Mia Ryder, Blaire Fay, Penny Desjardins, Mariam Rabuck, Riley Manchester, Yasmine McKenzie and Kate Louder are the freshmen on the team.
“Yasmine is from Wachusett and is one of our key contributors on defense,” Panarelli said. “Good player, a lot of potential. She plays like a senior and plays a very mature game.”
“Blaire is a forward that’s real fast and is very shifty,” he continued. “Mia is in the same mold as Blaire with quickness and speed. Kate Louder is skating with Kaci Ryder and Maddie Mrva, which is kind of our top line.”
“For all the freshmen it’s just about growing into it and getting used to high school hockey,” Panarelli said. “They’re realizing it’s faster and the girls who are three or four years older than them are just a bit bigger and stronger. But they’re all going to be fine; they’re all really good hockey players.”
A planned Shrewsbury game against Falmouth that was initially planned for Saturday has been postponed amid ongoing precautions and postponements due to the increasing spread of COVID-19 and its omicron variant.
The team is scheduled to be back in action next Friday, though, as it takes on Austin Prep.
Southborough native participates in skating fundraiser to fight cancer