State title dreams

TIM JEAN/Staff Photo Darsie Peterson, left, looks to make a play on the ball. Peterson has stepped up as a key forward and vocal leader for the Andover field hockey team, which is the top seed in Division 1 North.

Darsie Peterson, then a freshman, was already overwhelmed just to be entering the game on 2013 senior night. Little did she know, the moment was about to become far more memorable.

“I was just thrilled to be in the game,” said Peterson. “It was senior night against Danvers. I was standing by the post, someone took a shot and it knocked off my stick and into the net. I never imagined I was going to score a goal. It was crazy. But scoring a goal is always the same thrill. It never gets old.”

Three years later, Peterson is now a senior go-to forward for the powerhouse Andover High field hockey team, and will lead the No. 1 seed Golden Warriors (16-1-1) into battle when they open the Division 1 North tournament against the winner of the play-in game between Methuen and Concord-Carlisle.

“We are so excited for the state tournament,” said Peterson. “We are in a good spot in the seedings. We are ready to get into tournament time and the make the best run we can. We are so motivated. We lost in the Division 1 North final last year, and we are always out there because we want to be better than we ever have been. We feel like we have the ability to beat anyone.”

Now in her third varsity season, and second as a starter, Peterson finished the 2016 regular season with eight goals and eight assists.

“Darsie is a fierce competitor who plays with intensity at all times,” said Andover head coach Maureen Noone. “She pushed through the regular season with shin splints from the spring (lacrosse) season. She is a strong presence on the forward line who plays a tough right wing. Her speed and strength make it difficult to stop her cross balls or drives into the circle.”

But field hockey wasn’t always second nature to Peterson, who grew up focusing on soccer. She did not begin playing field hockey until eighth grade, and then it was more for social reasons.

“I had played soccer for years, but I just wasn’t having much fun playing the sport anymore,” said Peterson, who also starts for Andover in lacrosse. “A lot of my friends played field hockey, and I wanted to be with my friends and keep busy so I decided to try it. It was really freshman year, with the amazing coaches in Andover and the whole program, when I really fell in love with the sport.”

But it took Peterson some time to learn the finer points of her new sport.

“Having always played soccer I was used to having my foot on the ball,” she said. “In field hockey, if the ball hits your foot it’s a penalty. I also had to get used to the whistles. The rules were hard. It took some time, but I think it also helped that I learned from the best like coach Noone. I never developed bad habits.”

Peterson was called up to the varsity team late in her freshman season, and as a sophomore was a backup forward on the Golden Warriors team that advanced to the North final before falling to Acton-Boxboro on penalty strokes.

Last fall, Peterson earned a starting job at forward, scoring 12 goals including two-goal games in wins over archrival Central Catholic and Dracut. That team also made the North final.

“Since I am on the forward line my job is to get the ball in the circle and just be aggressive and get it into the net,” she said. “If I have the shot, I will take it. But I really don’t care who scores the goals. I love making the extra pass and set someone else up for a goal.”

Peterson also takes a great deal of pride in her work as a leader helping younger players, a role she said seniors did for her when she was young.

“She is a very vocal leader,” said Noone. “And all the girls look up to her. She is a great role model.”

The Warriors now head into the state tournament, and Peterson said her team has no problem with the state title expectations Andover field hockey carries with them.

“I don’t even consider it pressure,” said Peterson, who hopes to play college lacrosse. “We returned 10 seniors from the team that made the North final last year, and we know this is it for us. It’s great for us to have that motivation because it really pushes us. We always want to be the best we can be.”

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Reach sportswriter/videographer David Willis on Twitter at @DWillisET

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