By David Willis
---- — Mikayla Panneton admits to being a little bonkers, both on the field and off.
“I’m kind of energetic,” she said with a laugh. “I have a loud voice that makes girls listen to me whether they want to or not. I’m loud. You could point me out in a crowd no problem.”
But while it sometimes means two or three calls on her cellphone per day, Andover field hockey coach Maureen Noone wouldn’t want her star and tri-captain any other way.
“It doesn’t matter what we ask from Mikayla,” Noone said. “She will do anything for this team. She is a very vocal leader and a heck of a player. She is always organizing and double-checking everything. And when we needed help in the midfield, we moved her back and she has been terrific. She can do anything”
Panneton has not only accepted the move to midfield this season, she has embraced it and delivered a breakout campaign.
With just two career goals heading into the season, the Merrimack College-bound Panneton has scored nine times this fall, helping lead the Golden Warriors’ field hockey team to a 9-1-2 record though Monday, including a key victory over previously unbeaten Chelmsford on Saturday.
“This season just keeps getting better and better,” Panneton said. “We started off strong, and now we are really playing well. It’s too strange that I am actually a senior.”
It was another — similarly named — sport that first led Panneton to what is now her greatest passion.
“I probably never would have played field hockey if it wasn’t for (ice) hockey,” said Panneton, who is also a starting forward for the Warriors’ varsity hockey team. “I have been playing ice hockey since I was 8 years old. I love it. Sometimes I catch myself throwing an elbow in field hockey. I sometimes don’t know the line when it comes to pushing and shoving in field hockey. But it makes me more aggressive than most.
It was Morgan Manning, who also plays both field hockey and ice hockey, who encouraged Panneton to try the sport off skates.
“She said it was basically the same,” Panneton said, adding, “I would be nowhere in field hockey without hockey.”
After a year on the JV team, Panneton was a backup on the Andover varsity team that won its second of back-to-back Division 1 state titles in 2011.
“I probably only played a few minutes in the entire tournament,” she said. “I was on the sidelines and everyone was screaming and cheering. To be a part of that was amazing. It was so memorable to be there watching girls like the Farnham twins (Anne and Kate) and Taylor Farris do that. To think that could be us one day, to win a championship, would be terrific.”
Panneton earned a starting job last season as a forward helping the Warriors to a 14-3-3 record.
But once preparation began for the 2013 season, Noone had a new plan for Panneton in midfield.
“She told me I could take on the whole field, and it would give me more opportunities to score goals,” she said.
That’s exactly what has happened.
After scoring single goals in each of the last two seasons, Panneton wasted no time besting that mark, scoring a goal in each of the Golden Warriors’ first two games of the year. She entered the week with nine goals and four more assists.
“You have a big responsibility as a midfielder,” she said. “You have to play forward and have a defensive mind-set. You have to play the whole field. You push the ball up to forwards, then get back on defense. It’s all about judgments. But I get full range of the field to make plays and have scoring chances.
“Scoring a goal makes me feel like I can do anything. I love to feel like I can change the scoreboard and change the game. But when you stop a ball, you also feel like you accomplished something.”
Next fall, Panneton will be continuing her field hockey career at Merrimack College. The school already feels like home, and not only because it is just moments away from her actual home.
“When I was little, I used to play hockey games at Merrimack College all the time,” she said. “We would go to some of the men’s hockey games, too, and I even went to a few field hockey games.
“I had started to look at attending Merrimack last spring. Then I went to a play-day there. Coach (Anne) Rounce is phenomenal. She is a lot like coach Noone. We talked and she told me she totally wanted me to play there and really drew me in. I just loved it.
“But first I want to win another championship for Andover.”