ConVal girls hockey set for first game
In a little less than two years, the idea of girls hockey at ConVal has gone from a simple discussion between friends to what will be the program’s first regular season game on Saturday.
After one year of just practicing, the ConVal girls hockey team will host Bishop Guertin at the Winchendon School at 5 p.m. in the first of 12 scheduled games for the 2012-13 season.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” said coach Courtney McKay.
And one of the biggest goals for the year is to earn the program’s first victory.
“We’re looking for a win,” said McKay. “If we got a win that would be awesome.”
During the 2010-11 school year, now-senior Caroline Trowbridge began the crusade to add girls hockey to the list of winter sports available at ConVal. It began with Trowbridge talking with some other hockey enthusiasts and eventually led to a meeting with ConVal Athletic Director Jon Hall. At the beginning of last school year, with a list of 30 girls interested in playing, the program got the go-ahead from the School Board to move forward.
But when it came time to get serious about the team, the number of players interested dropped to just Trowbridge and classmate Annie Williams. But soon, others signed up to play and the Cougars began last year with 14.
They didn’t play a single game during the course of last winter, but instead the team practiced a few days a week and learned a lot of the basics.
McKay, who is an English teacher at the high school and a former collegiate player at Plymouth State, volunteered to help out. The original thought was that the Cougars would move from a practice-only schedule last year to the junior varsity level for 2012-13.
But with only eight girls hockey programs in the state last year, there were no teams for ConVal to play. So it was either another year of practicing and maybe a few scrimmages or jump right into the varsity ranks. The decision was easy.
By the time last season ended, ConVal only had about eight players who were consistently making it to practices, but that number has increased. With a large interest from the freshman class, the Cougars will have 19 players available for game action this season, yet more than half are new to the game. Eight of the team members are seniors, four more are juniors and the other seven are freshmen.
“My goal is to have everyone play in every game, but I might shorten the bench depending on who we’re playing against,” said McKay. “We want everyone used to being in a game.”
It will definitely be a work in progress. Entering Saturday’s season opener, the Cougars will have had just five practices. And with many players just learning how to skate and all of them learning how to play with each other, it will be a tough test against an established program like Bishop Guertin.
“Everyone is improving every (practice),” said McKay. “We only have one girl who has played in a game or league before.”
At least the Cougars will not be alone. Two other programs have joined the girls hockey ranks in the state, Souhegan and a co-op team from Bishop Brady and Trinity.
“It’s nice to have a few teams that are starting out as well,” said McKay.
And while Saturday presents a daunting task, it will get harder before it gets any easier for ConVal. In game two of the inaugural season, the Cougars will travel to Lebanon, who lost in last year’s Division I title game.
“Starting with Saturday, we’re going to start talking about smaller goals,” said McKay. “The smaller goals will help with morale when we are playing those tougher teams.”
With only 11 girls hockey teams in the state, there is only one division. ConVal will play each of the 10 other teams once, while doing a home and away series with Bishop Guertin and Souhegan.
Lilly Grisafi has never played hockey before, but she has played goalie in both soccer and lacrosse, so the junior newcomer will be the starting netminder for the Cougars.
In front of Grisafi will be a few holdovers from last year’s trial run. Williams, one of the founding members of the program, and senior Lucy Beyer both learned a lot last year and will anchor a defensive unit that will include seniors Haley Webber and Amy Garland, as well as juniors Olivia Thomas and Casey Kania.
“I think our defense is going to be strong,” said McKay.
Trowbridge and junior Catherine Long will center the ConVal lines and provide a lot of the team’s scoring punch. Senior Chloe Brett and freshman Jen Lehrman, once she returns from injury, will be solid on the outside.
“We have some goal scorers,” said McKay. “Hopefully we end up a well-rounded team.”
ConVal does not play defending champion Hanover until Feb. 9, the 11th game of the season.
The girls hockey program is self-funded because, according to school district policy, a new athletic program must be such for the first three years.