Chelmsford field hockey coach Susan D’Agostino wanted a fresh and unbiased perspective at the first day of tryouts this year.
Former Northeastern midfielder Hannah Wein — her new assistant — took on the challenge for D’Agostino without a sliver of prior knowledge about the players. It wasn’t too long before she grew excited about one, either.
It wasn’t UMass-commit Remoré Serra, one of the best midfielders in the state. Nor was it her fellow senior captain and Bentley-commit Emily Stagnone. It wasn’t returning defender Ava Balan, any of the other returning starters, or for that matter, any of the many players with prior field hockey experience.
She pointed out sophomore Jenna Nigro, choosing the one player who just picked up a stick for the first time this summer. She chose the one player who only recently gave up her true love in football, hanging up the pads after spending the last 10 years playing with the boys as a running back/linebacker.
Unknowingly, she chose the freshest newbie.
“You should’ve seen (Wein’s) face,” D’Agostino said. “First, her mouth went open. Then she smiled and goes, ‘Oh my God, she’s going to be so good.’ ”
The first time D’Agostino saw Nigro compete in anything was met with much of the same awe. With a little bit of gymnastics, football, wrestling, hockey and softball growing up, Nigro had somewhat spread her name throughout town. D’Agostino heard the name before herself, and she was watching her youngest daughter pitch for the Lions softball team last spring when she saw a sturdy, athletic freshman starting at shortstop.
“I had heard her name tossed around before … there’s this softball player Jenna Nigro, Jenna Nigro,” D’Agostino said. “She dives for this absolute line-drive of a ball, goes up to her knees, picks off a girl from her knees (for the double play). … I thought, “Wow, now THAT’s Jenna Nigro.”
That Jenna Nigro has turned into everything D’Agostino could have wanted in field hockey.
D’Agostino, a nut for aggression and confidence, naturally put the longtime linebacker at the heart of the defense — center back. Nigro fell in love with football for its quick bursts to the ball before hitting as hard as she could. If there were ever a perfect position for her, it’s center back. And the defense, which has allowed just three goals in a 7-0 start thus far, is thriving.
“Football has always been a major part of my life, and the things I’ve learned from football have translated over to field hockey. I think that’s what’s making me more successful,” Nigro said. “I was taught to not be afraid of anything. Usually, I’m not afraid of contact and usually other girls are. So they see me running full speed at them, they’re going to get out of the way.”
Leaving football was a little difficult for the sophomore, having such a close familial connection to it. Her family holds big parties for football Sundays, and her older brother, Austin, was a teammate for much of her career.
A year on the freshman team revealed to her, though, that it was coming to a close. She loved the idea of being a three-sport athlete, so it was just a matter of finding a substitute for the fall. Considering how D’Agostino preaches a killer mentality for her defense, this field hockey team was the perfect fit for Nigro.
“You would never know this kid had not played prior,” D’Agostino said. “She takes every practice as a learning opportunity, she eats everything up and wants to get better all the time. Even after one of her best games this year, at 10 o’clock at night she texted me and said, ‘What can I do better, I need to improve?’ ”
“Every day in the summer I picked up my stick and did 30 minutes of dribbling and stickwork,” Nigro added. “I didn’t expect to make varsity or even start. … It was my goal to (though).”
After a somewhat disappointing year last season in which injuries, illnesses and breakdowns led to an earlier exit than expected, Chelmsford enters its matchup with Div. 1 favorite Andover on Monday as a serious contender. A comeback win over Wachusett in the season opener showed just how fierce the Lions are, and they rode their defensive tenacity to their first win over Acton-Boxboro since 2011.
Five shutouts and a 34-5 goal differential entering the weekend has this group buzzing. Serra and Stagnone pair with Jill Martin for a dominant midfield, while Nigro, Balan, Nina Fredericks and AnneMarie Tyros dominate on defense. Kate Harrison leads the attack.
Serra, a longtime starter, is excited about what this group can do.
“This year, it’s all connecting for everybody and we’re all on the same page no matter what skill level we have,” she said. “We all just get it done. It’s great because we all just get along really well and the positivity is so high, the energy is so high. It’s just a great feeling so far.”
• It’s a shame Andover and Watertown’s first-ever meeting came at the start of the year, with each group recently finding a groove. The Raiders (9-0) have won each of their last seven games with a 7-0 score to extend their win streak to 40, while the Golden Warriors (8-1) have shut out everyone since to recover from the opening loss.
• Braintree is off to a marvelous start, building off last year to come out 8-1 within a tough conference. Bridget Lee has established herself as one of the state’s top scorers with two hat tricks.
• Canton is quickly emerging as a threat in Div. 2 with a bevy of highlight reels. Izzy Digirolamo and Ellie Bohane have combined for five hat tricks over the last few weeks to help pin the Bulldogs at 6-2.