…to NCAA National Tournament
Saturday’s win over the Concordia Cobbers sent the Gustavus women’s hockey team to the NCAA National Tournament, with a season record of 26-0-1. For the tenth consecutive year the women’s team is the MIAC Playoff Champion. Having been in this position before, the team is eager to prove that they are returning to the National Tournament more competitive than before.
“Being that this is our fourth appearance in four years we have a different approach as a team. The team has a great deal of motivation to place higher than we did last year. The level of competition used to be different between us and the other teams, but now I know that nothing is out of reach for us. It is all about our mindset as a team. We have been playing great so far, so there is no doubt in my mind that we can ensure different results based on the strengths this team has,” Senior Captain Lindsey Hjelm said.
Because they have been here before the team is motivated to do well and to prove that they are a force to be reckoned with. According to Senior Kelsey Kennedy, schools from the east typically perform better in the National Tournament than schools from the west do.
“We want to be playing our very best hockey for the national tournament. Our goal is to show the East, which has long been a dominator in DIII women’s hockey, that the West is a true competitor in the sport,” Kennedy said.
Gustavus has a long tradition of successful women’s hockey teams—this is the tenth year in a row the women have made it to the National Tournament. But despite this pattern of success, the goals the team set at the beginning of the season were focused on playing the season one game at a time.
“We have a long season, so by focusing on getting better and playing great hockey every weekend, our team has achieved all of its goals so far. This is really where I hoped we would be, so I could not be more proud of my team,” Hjelm said.
This strategy of playing one game at a time has led the Gusties to an undefeated record this season, and to the National Tournament. The women were so focused on the game in front of them that they hardly noticed how successful their season was.
“This season has exceeded any expectations I had, but that’s happened every year. In retrospect, we never even realized how great our season was going, until now. We’ve been playing one game at a time and all of a sudden it added up to an undefeated season,” Kennedy said.
In addition to setting realistic goals, the team uses its strong chemistry—on and off the ice—to win games. The women rely on each other to score goals, provide defense, and protect the goal while they are on the ice, and this reliance on each other carries over into their friendships off the ice as well.
“This is such an amazing team to be a part of and I feel so fortunate to have this experience with all these wonderful girls. What’s really special about our team is that every girl gives her very best, day in and day out. We all support each other and approach every challenge with a positive attitude. We have some fabulous leadership on our team that has helped to bond us together to achieve this level of success,” Sophomore Leah Johnson said.
While the women on the team all work together and provide leadership for their teammates, the seniors have provided guidance to the team for four years, which is something their coach will miss next year.
“All five of our seniors are good leaders. Two of them have worn the ‘C’ on their jerseys, but these two captains would not have been as effective without the other three seniors. They are all good students and good people, not just good athletes,” Head Coach Mike Carroll said.
On Saturday, Mar. 9 the Gusties will host UW-River Falls for the first round of the National Tournament. The team’s goal is to win on Saturday so they can advance to the Final Four.
The team is excited for Saturday’s game and the women believe they have the ability to pull off a win.
“Coming into the Tournament our team has the confidence that we have enough talent, positive attitudes, and the work ethic necessary to achieve greater results this year. We are focusing on the things we can control, which are our effort and attitude. If we come into every game giving 110% then I have no doubt that we have the ability to come out on top,” Johnson said.
The Gustavus community has provided support for the women’s hockey team throughout the season, which is something the whole team appreciates.
“Nothing could make me more proud of our team. We are excited to play this weekend and have a chance to be in the Final Four. We are so thankful for the support we have with our fans, the Gustavus community and our coaches who believed in us from the very start,” Hjelm said.