Rookie Emily Groves has scored 19 goals this season, the most by a player in Marcia Wood’s 10 years as coach of the Freeport field hockey team. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

Marcia Wood knew children could play. But could the seven freshmen of Freeport High’s field hockey team, many of whom were set to play big roles, help the team win?

“That was exactly my thought,” the Falcons coach said.

This question has been answered. With freshmen Emily Groves, Reed Proscia, Liza Flower and Lilliana Larochelle thriving in the forward positions and Lizalyn Boudreau anchoring midfield, Freeport have become one of the hottest teams in Class B South, winning 8 of 9 games to finish with a 10-3-1. regular season record.

“I watched them (for) years and years,” Wood said. “I knew when they got here it was going to be amazing. I didn’t expect it so soon.

Freeport is a shining example, but this fall freshmen are having a significant impact on many of southern Maine’s top field hockey teams. Cheverus and Biddeford were boosted by midfield play from Joey Pompeo and Kayla Magnant. Groves and Thornton Academy’s Martina Prat became the top scorers. Cape Elizabeth’s Lulu Stoecklein and Scarborough’s Sabrina Ocampo served as forward playmakers. Gorham’s Annabelle Collier, with five goals, is the Rams’ top rookie in years.

With the playoffs about to begin, freshmen might have a hand in deciding who goes on long runs.

“Looking at all the rosters, there’s a handful of freshmen contributing,” Cheverus coach Theresa Arsenault said. “I think it will be cool to see which of these girls start to stand out.”

Cheverus freshman midfielder Joey Pompeo has two goals and 10 assists. Photo by Drew Bonifant

Arsenault has a good one in Pompeo. Sister to NCAA Division I players Sophia, a senior at Providence College, and Lucia, a sophomore at Quinnipiac, Pompeo emerged as one of the leaders in the Stags 14-0 midfield deadly game, scoring two times while adding 10 assists.

“She’s big on our transition from defense to attack. She is really good at preparing her teammates and distributing the ball,” said Arsenault. “Her stick skills (are good), but her ability to see the field and see her teammates, and her field hockey IQ…She’s not playing like a rookie.”

Arsenault said Pompeo “fits in perfectly” on a Cheverus team that has fired 10 of 11 starters. Pompeo wondered if she would.

“I was a little nervous coming into first grade, wondering how I was going to fit in,” she said. “I worked my way into the role, but I’ve also played for clubs all my life. I’ve always been kind of a playmaker, not really a scorer.

At Biddeford, coach Caitlin Tremberth was delighted with the impact Magnant had in midfield. She went over the roles of the team: Cece Keller scores the goals, Ayla Lagasse gets breakaways, Eliza Doyon gets the ball on defense and Kiki Jackson is the “quarterback”.

And the role of Magnant?

“Kayla is our playmaker for sure,” she said.

Tremberth compared Magnant’s skills as a rookie to Abby Allen’s freshman year in 2017.

“We were able to put her on the left side, the right side, the middle, the front. She can even play a bit defensively, she is good at every position,” she said. “His passes are always smart. It’s a pass for space or it’s a pass to open someone.

Magnant, who has three goals and 12 assists, was playing U-16 field hockey this summer at age 14.

“The first game, I was obviously nervous to be on the pitch with big players,” Magnant said. “But as soon as we stepped onto the pitch, my mindset changed and we connected instantly. I was out there playing my game with girls who I consider family.

Freeport rookie Lilliana Larochelle works on stickhandling during a practice drill Wednesday. Larochelle, a forward, is one of many freshmen to flourish for the 10-3-1 Falcons. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

Stoecklein of Cape Elizabeth only started playing field hockey three years ago. Now she’s a major factor for the Capers (12-2), working to set up teammates Grace Gray and Kaitlyn McIntyre from her right-hand position.

“She’s kind of that missing piece,” coach Maura Bisogni said. “It’s his willingness not to score sometimes, but to set up the play or get people out so someone else can come in. That selflessness is also very important.”

Stoecklein, a former soccer player, said the playmaking role came naturally.

“That’s what I’ve always done. In soccer I did that, and in lacrosse I do that,” she said. “I felt pretty comfortable that way.”

Freeport’s Groves, meanwhile, have impressed as a finisher with 19 goals this season, the most by a player in Wood’s 10 years as manager.

“(Wood) told me I was going to play a big part, and the seniors kind of welcomed us,” Groves said. “I could feel a bit of pressure coming in and I was a bit nervous. But as the season progressed, I realized that we were all there to support each other.

Of all the freshman Falcons, Groves was the hardest to keep off the scoresheet.

“She has this competitive nature. If she’s in front of goal, she’s going to have it,” Wood said. “Everything in there, she constantly sticks to it, keeps her stick on it, pushes through, is aggressive. And she’s got a really good eye for the ball, so she’s in the right spot too, at the right time.

The playoffs may be a different test. Groves, however, expects the experience to pay off for her and her classmates.

“We worked for our spots,” she said. “I think we deserve to go far in the playoffs.”

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