Thornton Academy goalie Madison Vachon prepares to block a shot during a recent field hockey practice. The junior has patiently waited her turn as the team’s starter. (Anthony Lombardi photo)

SACO – Madison Vachon knew a few years would pass before her time came.

As a young goalkeeper in the Thornton Academy field hockey program, especially one who didn’t start playing the position until high school, patience is a virtue.

“I’ve waited and waited. I’m just really excited. I want to show people what I can do,” said Vachon who recently started her junior year as a Golden Trojan. “I thought I was good enough to play (last year) but we had a great goalie already … It’s my duty now.”

While the starting job in the net is Vachon’s to lose this season, Friday’s home opener against Gorham isn’t the first time that she has produced at the varsity level. She was forced into action her first two high school seasons due to injury to then starting goalkeeper Jenica Botting who graduated in the spring. Vachon played in 10 games as a freshman and five as a sophomore. She registered save percentages of 64.2 and 76.9, respectively.

“It’s not usual that a freshman is your starter,” said Thornton head coach Lori Smith. “She was nervous, but I knew that she was a great athlete … I think having those minutes in the cage helped her see what she could do athletically.”

There were days over those first two years where Vachon had to play goalie for the varsity team and then run across the school grounds, lugging her equipment behind her, to block shots for the junior varsity. “It was exhaust- ing. But I got a lot of playing time,” Vachon said.

Each time she started to feel tired with her substitute workload, Smith would whisper words of encouragement and remind Vachon that her time was coming.

Smith, who has served as the Golden Trojans’ field hockey coach for 22 years, could only recall a couple of Thornton goalies who had to step into the cage so early in their career.

In 2013, Issy Capozzi played in parts of three games as a freshman and made two saves for a squad that only allowed 11 goals all season.

Vachon says she didn’t know what she was doing the first time she was thrown into the fire, but the player she filled in for had no doubt the net was in good hands.

“I had complete confidence in her,” Botting said. “I knew for sure that she had the focus and determination to play her best every single time she went out onto the field. She’s in it to win it. There’s nothing that’s stopping her.”

Botting and Vachon became close during their two years together. Botting, like Vachon, didn’t play goalie until high school. Botting, like Vachon, played catcher on the varsity softball team.

During field hockey practice, goalies are often alone, working on their skills while the rest of the team performs drills or rehearses plays down the turf. It can be a lonely couple of hours, but Vachon studied her elder who was all too eager to share her tricks of the trade.

“You see her every single day at practice and you just build a great friendship,” said Botting who just started her first semester at Saint Michael’s College, where she will play softball. “You have complete trust in each other … (Our relationship) made my last year (at Thornton) truly fun.”

Vachon suffered a sprained ankle toward the end of the softball season and she wasn’t able to train as much as she had wanted over the summer.

It didn’t take long – the first week of the preseason – for her to feel comfortable again throwing her body in front of 5.75 ounces of whipped plastic.

“She actually surprised the heck out of me because she was looking phenomenal,” Smith said. “She was stopping balls left and right … She’s ready, ready to take charge. Madi’s always had leadership qualities … She’s a positive kid (and) I think the kids really respect her.”

The biggest difference in Vachon’s game from her freshman season to now, she said, is confidence. She’s been through the fire. She’s learned to not get frustrated when plays don’t go her way. She’s ready, she’s comfortable and she hopes that her teammates give her some breathing room on the scoreboard.

— Sports editor Anthony Lombardi can be reached by email at [email protected].

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