Thursday, October 13, 2005
Michigan women's club team optimistic
By Matt Mackinder
The University of Michigan women’s club hockey team, after a trip to the national tournament last year, is off to a slow start this season, but is optimistic their fortunes will change in time.
Returning most of the players from last year’s team will help ease the three freshmen into game shape this year.
“We have a strong coaching staff that has big goals set for us this year,” senior goalie Jennifer Barnhart, a Kingsley native, said. “We plan to finish among the top in the CCWHA and make the ACHA National Tournament again this year (in St. Louis).”
Barnhart, last season’s playoffs MVP, should see most of the time in net, but sophomore Katie Caskey and freshman Maggie Wagner (Troy) are capable netminders as well.
Last year at nationals, the 11th-ranked Wolverines lost their first two games to second-ranked Lindenwood and seventh-ranked Massachusetts before dropping an overtime heartbreaker to 10th-ranked Northern Michigan.
Michigan is looking for a reversal of fortune this season and feels it starts with the regular season.
“We need to get into our game very quickly as we are playing some very difficult teams right away, but I am very positive and excited about the possibilities this season,” senior defenseman Mary Catherine Finney (Grand Rapids) said. “After our showing at nationals in the spring, many other ACHA teams have taken notice of us and are traveling to Ann Arbor to play us this season including powerhouses like Lindenwood and U-Mass Amherst, so getting extra games against such talented teams will really challenge us and only raise our game.”
Junior defender Kristin Delong agrees with Finney.
“The outlook for this season is a very optimistic one,” said Delong, from Kalamazoo. “So far, we have nothing but a good team atmosphere, a great group of athletes, and a disciplined work ethic. Getting along on the ice has an immense amount to do with how we get along off the ice. For our team this year, this aspect is a very positive one. Right now, I live with four other girls from the team and they are my best friends. The bond we all have off the ice is what helps us succeed on the ice. We hang out all the time and it is always a lot of fun.”
Adam Winters and Andrea Shear share head coaching duties for the Wolverines. Winters noted that from year to year, the roster changes and he never really knows who’s going to be on the team.
“Because of the academic requirements to attend U of M and the fact that we are a club sport, we really don't know who were going to get until the first day of tryouts,” explained Winters. “We lost only two players, granted both will be missed (one was in the top three or four in points last season and the other was one of our top defensemen), but we had a great group of freshmen last year who will be counted on to contribute a bit more this season.
“Last year's No. 1 goalie (Jen) is back, along with two of three captains. What does all this mean? Well, we certainly will raise the bar on the expectations of the team. We finished second in the CCWHA tournament last year and we'd like to get back to the championship game and give that another shot. We also entered nationals in the 11th spot and left in the 11th spot. We definitely want to improve on that. I'm very excited for this season, and really do expect us to reach both of these long-term goals.”
Up front, lone freshman Caity Clarke joins graduate captain Darcy Utter, juniors Cheryl Mervich (Port Huron), Kelly Bowes (Schoolcraft) and Laine Schmid (Bloomfield Hills) and sophomores Hillary Eagen (Marysville), Emily Shefferly (Grosse Pointe), Megan Lobeck and Lauren Lobert (Walled Lake).
Along with Finney and Delong, juniors Kathryn McMillan (Grosse Pointe Park) and Trisha Drewry (Lake Orion) and freshman Amy Cauzillo (Northville) make up the U-M defense.
And as with any Michigan sport, a rivalry with Michigan State is inevitable. The Wolverines gear up for MSU days ahead of time and revel in the on-ice intensity. The Spartans have two women’s teams, an ‘A’ team and a ‘B’ team. The ‘A’ team finished as national runners-up a year ago while the ‘B’ team was handled easily by the Wolverines in their five meetings last season.
“MSU and U-M have always been rivalry schools and whenever our teams play each other the games are very competitive,” Mervich said. “We also have a great crowd turnout when our schools play each other.”
“There is a rivalry with MSU no matter what U of M team you are,” added Delong. “It is in a Wolverine's blood to want to win against MSU whether they are 100 times better or 100 times worse than you. When it comes to playing a rival school, stats don't seem to matter; it's always going to be a good, heart-on-the-line game.”
Finney concurred with her teammates.
“The rivalry used to be more intense than it is now,” said Finney. “But any time you have Spartans at Yost or we play in their house, energy and tempers are always high. There is always something extra at stake when playing MSU – a certain pride you can take with you.”
Not being a Division I team doesn’t mean the Wolverines aren’t competitive. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Wayne State has the state’s only women’s D-I team and U-M may or may not join the Warriors in time. But before that happens, obstacles need to be cleared.
”Having a varsity program here would be a great leap for both women's hockey and the university,” Barnhart said. “The only option women have to play competitive hockey here is for the club team. Granted, if a varsity program was established, that team would recruit from all over the nation and it is a very slim chance that any current club members would play on that team.”
“Right now it's not a necessity because there are so few D-I teams in our area,” said Finney. “I think the level of play and the competition within the CCWHA is incredible and certainly rivals many D-III teams. However, D-I would give many girls an opportunity to play that couldn't afford to cough up the $1500 that it costs us to play. A varsity program would mean more respect from the university, more recognition, and a great move for women's hockey. My guess is that when Michigan State moves to varsity we will be soon to follow because you know how we hate to be upstaged by the Spartans.”
Mervich added that, “D-I hockey at Michigan would be an amazing accomplishment for women’s hockey. The men’s program is one of the best in the country and I feel that a women’s program would have to follow in its footsteps. I hope that one day we do have a varsity program here at the university, but in the mean time I am thrilled that we have a club program that I am able to be a part of.”
”The majority of schools that have a D-I men's program in the northeast also have a women's program, as do Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin,” observed Winters. “There's really no excuse for MSU and U of M to not have a team. It just has not been a priority for either athletic department. If it was, it would have happened by now. If OSU and Wayne State can do it, certainly U of M and MSU could. It's sad that the better players in the state have only one option if they want to stay in the Michigan and play D-I hockey and I think there is enough talent in Michigan to support more than one program.”
Speaking of Ohio State, Michigan beat them, 2-1, in their season opener on Sept. 30, but lost a 1-0 contest two days later to the same Buckeyes. Michigan then fought valiantly, but fell to the Michigan State ‘A’ team, 3-0, on Oct. 7. Next up is a two-game series at Yost Ice Arena with Western Michigan on Oct. 28-29. Game times are 9:30 p.m. (Oct. 28) and 5:00 p.m. (Oct. 29).
Check out the U-M women's hockey team here.