Lady 'Jackets look to repeat
Even before playing its first game of the season, the University of Wisconsin-Superior women's hockey team is a target for its opponents. "I think every team loves beating us," UWS coach Dan Laughlin said. "We're one of those teams that no matter...
Even before playing its first game of the season, the University of Wisconsin-Superior women's hockey team is a target for its opponents.
"I think every team loves beating us," UWS coach Dan Laughlin said. "We're one of those teams that no matter where we're at in the standings, people always want to beat us. I think the girls understand that now. We were picked in the preseason to win the conference, so we've talked about that. It's an honor, but it's also just a prediction. Teams are out to get us; we've got to always be ready and prepared to face the battle we'll get from those teams."
The Yellowjackets won the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association regular season title last year with a 9-3-3 record and a 18-6-3 record overall, and they will look to do the same this year.
According to the NCHA preseason coaches poll, the Yellowjackets are slated to finish first with UW-Stevens Point tabbed second by just a single point. Superior received two first place votes, while Stevens Point claimed four. UW-River Falls, which was picked to finish third, took the last first place vote and ended just four points behind UWS in the poll.
With so many quality teams competing in the NCHA this year, UWS will have its work cut out for it. Adding to the challenge is the task of replacing seven seniors who graduated from the team last year.
"We're very young, proud (and) hard working," said UWS sophomore Brittany Dunkel. "Last year we had seven graduating seniors, so everyone needs to step it up a lot."
On defense the Yellowjackets lost Caitlin Jarrett, Susie Crabb and Lindsey Bennett. Offensively, UWS saw four talented forwards graduate: Kyla Thibideau, Ashley Jenkins, Vi Theofylatos and Erin Kegley.
"They are two completely different teams," Laughlin said. "Last year losing the senior class, that was my first senior class. Losing all of those girls, I think they were kind of the foundation to the success of this program, so now it's time for the new girls to step in and build on that foundation. You lose some familiar faces, but again, it's time for the girls to step up and keep the tradition alive and keep building that tradition."
At the forefront of keeping UWS's strong hockey tradition alive will be this year's team captains, Gina Baranzelli and Stacy Anderson.
"Our captains are the ones we look up to," Dunkel said. "We may have to work twice as hard, but everyone's working to develop."
Laughlin said his two captains, both seniors, will have even more motivation to succeed this year.
"They've both stepped up to the plate as far as leadership roles," Laughlin said. "But our whole team will be leaders, even the freshmen. I expect everyone to contribute right away."
Anderson was second on the team in points scored last year with 24 points and first in assists with 19. Baranzelli was tied for third most goals on the team with seven. Jamie McClintock, who will also hold a leadership role for the Yellowjackets this year, scored seven goals as well.
But despite returning many key players, the Yellowjackets' will have to replace a big piece of their offense now that Kegley has moved on. The two-time NCHA player of the year and four-time all-conference and All-American pick led UWS in nearly every offensive category last year. She holds the UWS women's hockey all-time records in total points, goals scored and assists..
"As far as talent goes, we have some very skilled players on this team this year," Laughlin said. "You lose an Erin Kegley and stuff like that, but you also have a lot of girls with potential to step up."
Six freshmen are on the UWS team this year, and Laughlin felt they would all be able to contribute. Last year, Brianne Mosher was the freshman who had a breakout year for the Yellowjackets. The forward finished second on the team in total goals scored with 10 and third in points with 17. As a sophomore this year, Mosher will look to continue as on offensive threat for UWS. "We do have a lot of scoring up front," Laughlin said. "Some new girls, the old girls, that will all come. Once goals start going in, confidence builds."
Building confidence will be important for the young team's offense early in the season, but Laughlin wasn't worried about the Yellowjackets' development on offense.
"Just like in any sport, at the beginning of the season everyone's a little rusty and it takes time to get things going," Laughlin said. "Once we get everyone on the same page we're going to be a very dangerous team. This is the beginning; you've got to be patient and it will all work out."
The Yellowjackets' offense may take some time to solidify, the Yellowjackets' defense in already in good shape. "I'd say right now our biggest strength is our defensive side," Laughlin said. "Rikki Nespor and Melissa Kunzelman are back. I think they're two of the best goalies in the nation. We have a tremendous defensive corps, so I think we're going to take a lot of pride and responsibility in playing defense first."
Both Kunzelman and Nespor were solid in the net last season. Kunzelman was 8-4-1 with a 1.34 GAA, and Nespor was 10-2-2 with a 1.77 GAA.
UWS will have its first test of the year as it opens its season against St. Benedict this weekend as Wessman Arena. The two teams will be 3 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.
"This weekend is going to show where we're at," Dunkel said. "Everyone just has to work really hard. As long as we work as a team it should go well."
"I just expect a lot of high energy," Laughlin said. "We've prepared ourselves. Like I say, any new season, no team is 100 percent dialed in; there's going to be some mistakes, gaps to improve on. Our (objective) is just to have high energy the whole game and consistent effort through all three periods and just be patient with mistakes that are made. The biggest thing is to find a way to win two games. If it's pretty, if it's ugly it doesn't matter just so we win two games."