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Luverne girls hockey team is coming on fast

It was the boys team that put Luverne high school hockey on the map. Now, the girls are getting their turn.

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Luverne Cardinals girls hockey player Kamryn Van Batavia leans on the edge of the rink during a break Monday afternoon at practice at the Blue Mound Ice Arena.Tim Middagh / The Globe

LUVERNE -- It was the boys team that put Luverne high school hockey on the map.

Now, the girls are getting their turn.

The Cardinal girls competed in their first Minnesota state tournament in 2016, but after going back in 2020 and 2021, they are gunning for their third straight appearance in 2022.

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Head coach Tony Sandbulte, who coached the LHS boys varsity from 2008 to 2013, switched to coaching the girls in 2014. That was the year the Cardinal boys alerted the state that Luverne was becoming as much a hockey town as it used to be a basketball town, and when they returned to the Big Ice Show in 2017, the message was confirmed.

But now the girls are making the biggest ice waves in the Rock County hamlet.

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Members of the Luverne Cardinals girls hockey team listen to instructions from coaches during a Monday afternoon practice. Tim Middagh / The Globe

“We knew when I went with the girls that the girls’ time was coming,” said Sandbulte Monday afternoon at practice. “Once we broke through in 2016 things just went building from there. We knew we had a good girls team at the time, but I didn’t foresee three state tournaments. And just to see where we’re at right now with a bright future -- we’re not going away anytime soon.”

Sandbulte says the Cardinals’ top girls’ line, led by forwards Kamryn Van Batavia and Reghan Bork, center Payton Behr and defender Mallory Nelson, can play with anybody.

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Posters at the Blue Mound Ice Arena in Luverne proudly memorialize the girls' and boys' teams' first state tournament appearances. Tim Middagh / The Globe

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“And the message this year is bringing up the intensity. They play at a high level all the time. That’s the expectation. That’s the bar,” added the coach.

It’s not, of course, that the Luverne boys pucksters are falling off. Quite the contrary, they’ve had a good start to the 2021-22 season and their success is likely to continue. It’s just that, well, it’s time to move over and make some room for the girls on the championship chair.

Van Batavia, a junior who ranked among the state’s goal, assists and points leaders as a sophomore, is right back up there again this winter.

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Cardinals girls hockey players do some practice laps Monday. Tim Middagh / The Globe

“It’s fun to have two successful varsity teams,” she said. “I know the girls program will stay strong for a while.”

Sandbulte agrees that there are a lot of talented younger girls yet to come up in the ranks. The program has reached the level to where it now feeds off itself.

Mallory Nelson, another junior, says the girls are definitely feeling their oats. When asked whether she thinks the girls are top shelf in Luverne hockey today, she smiles confidently.

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Luverne Cardinals girls hockey player takes a shot at the goal during a Monday afternoon passing drill at practice at the Blue Mound Ice Arena Monday afternoon. Tim Middagh / The Globe

“I feel like we are,” she said prior to Monday’s practice session.

Yeah, she said. Sometimes it’s fun to kid around with the boys. But in reality, she enjoys the fact that the Cardinal guys are still pretty tough. All for one, one for all.

Van Batavia, who has traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D., to hone her hockey skills in the off-season since she was 10 years old, has recently committed to playing college hockey at Minnesota State-Mankato. She’s focused on Luverne hockey now, but she admits, “College has definitely been a motivation for me.”

She’d like to see girls and women’s hockey at the high school and college gain more respect generally, in fact.

“We’ve shown, and we continue to show, that we’re something, too,” the high-scoring junior said.

Strong hockey roots

With each passing game, it seems, the Luverne girls accomplish more team and personal goals. One of Kamryn’s best friends, in fact, Bork recently secured her 100th career goal. A senior, Bork fills an important leadership role on the 2021-22 squad, said her pal.

Nelson has strong hockey roots. Her big brother is the former Luverne High School boys hockey superstar, Jaxson Nelson, who is now in his third year performing at the University of Minnesota.

No surprise, then, that Jaxson continues to be a role model for Mallory.

“Just like, watching him play, and the way he would connect with his teammates. Just how talented he is. And I love watching him,” his younger sister explained.

Van Batavia’s older sister, Maddie, also played Luverne hockey but does not play it now in college. Their younger sister, Ellie, plays on the Luverne 12U team.

Nelson says that this year’s varsity team needs to continue to get stronger to beat a team like New Ulm to reach a third straight state tournament. But she has no doubt that the Cards, whose only loss so far this season has been to the Eagles 7-3 on Nov. 16, will improve and be ready for them next time.

And the LHS boys?

Good luck to them, said Van Batavia, who kidded on Monday that during a recent snow day, the girls and boys teams talked about organizing a scrimmage together. It didn’t happen, however, because it was decided the girls needed a regular captain’s practice to get ready for a big upcoming game.

“This year, I think (a scrimmage) would be fun,” Van Batavia said.

And could the girls hold their own?

“Oh, yeah,” she explained. “We would be fine.”

Related Topics: HOCKEY
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