When you win a state championship, it seems like everyone wants to play for you. Even the girls.
Tewksbury High sophomore Taylor Lirakis not only tried out for the TMHS boys varsity squad this winter. She made it.
Lirakis, who played on Tewksbury’s junior varsity team last winter, was one of four candidates for two goaltender spots on this year’s varsity squad. The pony tail hanging down the back of the TMHS player wearing shirt number 24 is the first piece of evidence that Lirakis earned one of those spots.
"I beat out two other boy goalies and it just made me feel really good about myself and that I accomplished a really big goal by making varsity,” she said.
Even though she has yet to appear in a varsity game so far this season, coach Derek Doherty was glad she didn’t let the gender differences stop her from trying out.
“I like the fact that (girls are) not afraid to come out and play,” he said. “We don’t have a girls program at Tewksbury so the girls can be just as competitive as the boys when they come out, and (Lirakis) is.”
The fact that she’s the team’s only girl doesn’t seem to faze her.
“I’ve always played on a boys team,” she said. “A few years ago I did a guys and a girls team at the same time, but I always stuck with the guys team. The game was a lot faster than the girls team which kept me more focused and it was just a more fun game.”
Lirakis is not the first girl to defend the net for the Redmen. 2010 graduate Kerri Stuart was a four-year goaltender who appeared in multiple games. Doherty said the team’s experience playing with Stuart has helped them make Lirakis feel like a part of the team.
“The older boys know what it was like when Kerri was here, how to act, and they’re very responsible,” he said.
Currently, Lirakis is the back-up to freshman starter Kyle Paquette, but she hopes that continuing to play the fast-paced boys game will help her improve her game as the season progresses.
“(Playing with the boys) has improved my game a lot,” she said. “I played last year on the JV team and just the shots (on varsity) are completely different and it’s improved my game a lot.”
The sophomore may be a rookie on the varsity but she’s a veteran when it comes to boys hockey. She began playing about seven years back after watching her younger brother, Michael Lirakis, play. She began playing youth hockey on boys teams, and has always preferred their style of play to the girls game.
So when she got to high school, her choice to play on Tewksbury’s boys team wasn’t a tough decision.
“There were a few options around me, like (playing for Shawsheen) Tech’s (all-girls) team, but I just wanted to stay with the guys,” she said. “It was more fun.”
Her teammates make it fun for her both on and off the ice by making her feel welcome as a part of the team.
“I’m friends with some of the kids from playing hockey with them before so it’s not like I’m not friends with any of them. The only difference is that I’m separated at some points, but (the boys) make me feel comfortable,” Lirakis said. “They treat me well and they treat me with respect and everything."
The boys may treat her like any other member of the team, and they don’t take it easy on her either. During a pre-season captain’s practice this October, Lirakis took a shot to her collar bone while playing net and had to get three stitches, but she didn’t let it slow her down.
“I was kinda scared the first time I went back out there, but I got over it,” she said.
But all differences aside, Doherty said all of his players’ have one goal in mind.
“Everybody’s here for the same reason, to play hockey," he said.