PREP GIRLS' HOCKEY: WHS: A team on the rise
WORTHINGTON -- Lexi Standafer is sick of people writing off Worthington as a losing girls' hockey team. She wants it to be known that those were the Trojans of last year. This year, the team has different expectations. "The ultimate goal is to ge...
WORTHINGTON -- Lexi Standafer is sick of people writing off Worthington as a losing girls' hockey team.
She wants it to be known that those were the Trojans of last year. This year, the team has different expectations.
"The ultimate goal is to get a couple of Ws," said Standafer, who is a senior captain on this years' squad. "It's been a few years since we've had a win, and we're going into the season ready to see some Ws. We're really excited and optimistic."
Worthington's first chance at a victory will be at home tonight against St. Peter/Lesueur/Henderson. The puck drops at 6 p.m.
The team's reputation of being a losing team is not undeserved.
They haven't had a win the past two seasons, and Standafer describes the number of wins during her career as "not enough to keep record of."
The result has been a dip in attendance at the Trojans' games the past couple of years.
"The school is pretty much used to us being a losing team, which is going to change this year, so hopefully the attendance will change," Standafer said.
Head coach Ken Karwoski is positive that declining attendance is a trend that the team can cure with its performance this season.
"Towards the end of last year the word started to get around that, 'Hey, girls' hockey isn't such a boring thing,'" Karwoski said. "I think our fan support really fell the previous two years, but now we're able to put an exciting product out on the ice, and we hope that people will come and see it."
Standafer is one of four seniors on the team that have weathered the past few lean seasons. However, there are some standout younger players, including eighth-graders Betsy Thompson and Allison Kremer, who are entering the season without the burden of having to make up for past seasons.
"A lot of them don't have that experience, they're not used to seeing our team lose, and as a coach I'm not setting that losing mentality," Karwoski said. "That's going to be the biggest challenge, is last year we got into those positions to win games, and the girls just aren't used to it, and they're not used to finishing.
"This year both (assistant) Coach (Jenny) Braa and I are working on setting the mentality to win and finish, and if you get a lead, not just sit back and say, 'Oh, we're winning, now what?' We don't want to win by one goal, we want to win by two or three."
Braa has been a new addition this season. A Luverne native who has been playing hockey since, in her own words, she was "a mite or a squirt" -- initially playing on boys' teams before joining the girls' team in high school -- Braa is confident that the Trojans have the ability to live up to the expectations of a reputation-changing season.
"I think they definitely can do it," Braa said. "I've heard from other people within the organization that their attitudes have changed a lot since Ken started coaching them. Before they were like, 'Oh, we're going to lose, whatever.' But now they seem like they're in the mindframe where they could definitely do it this year. They feel more confident and positive."
Karwoski is in his second year at the helm of the team, and it appears to be no coincidence that the team has started to turn things around after he and former assistant coach Josh Miller took over last year.
"I don't feel like I did anything incredible," Karwoski said. "It was just having a new mindframe in here, really breaking it down to the basics. A little bit of youth helped, too. Coach Miller and I are both young individuals, and we came out with a lot of energy, and just pushed the energy all the way through, and it trickled down into the players."
The work that Karwoski did with the team last season has established a good starting point for further improvement this year.
Two seasons ago, the team not only lost all of its games, but only scored eight goals all season. Last year the team played some much closer games, and raised its goal total up to 20.
"A lot of times over the summer a lot of people lose a lot of skills, but I feel all our girls came back at least at the level they left with, if not better, and that's a very exciting sign," Karwoski said. "We had a couple games last year that we were very close to winning, and I think with the way our program is building we have some very good opportunities to get a couple of wins."
However, each new season poses new challenges. This year the team gained an additional three members, and two of them, Taylor Heidebrink and Shelby Veen, were brand new to ice skating, let alone playing hockey.
"We've got two new girls who are completely new to skating, but they've been doing very well this year," Karwoski said. "They're fairly solid on their skates, and have a nose for the goal."
Standafer said that despite the adjustment period for the new players, the team has emerged from its preseason as a cohesive unit that is ready to compete on the ice.
"We went from being some girls out on the ice to being a team," Standafer said.
The new skaters on the team aren't even the youngest players -- Veen is a sophomore and Heidebrink is a junior. It hasn't been uncommon for new players to be introduced at such a late age.
Karwoski is hoping that in the future there will be more girls in the area that become interested in hockey at a younger age.
"Having girls come in as eighth-graders or juniors, they can make big strides, but just imagine if they started as a 10-year-old playing, and they've had four, or even two years of hockey before we get them," Karwoski said. "They'll have some of those basic skills, and it will really help the program."
Thompson, Kremer and freshman Amanda Bristow represent the beginnings of a youth movement on the team.
Bristow was thrust into the position of starting goalie last season, and has shown great improvements thanks to her frequent playing time. Thompson already had a two-goal performance in a preseason scrimmage.
However, it is Standafer and fellow senior captains Stephanie Pavelko and Erin Heffernan that are the seasoned veterans that have helped to turn the team into a cohesive unit.
"We really rely on our captains a lot to teach the newer people some of the basics in terms of the rules," Karwoski said. "We try not to spend a lot of time on that and let them learn on the fly, but our captains do a great job of that."
The captains aren't interested in the younger players dedicating this season to them. They're only interested in winning in the name of the program.
Every ounce of energy the team expends will be funneled toward that goal of breaking with its losing tradition, and starting a new winning tradition that will linger long after the seniors graduate.
"Basically this season we're just going to be giving everything we've got," Pavelko said. "Every race to the puck, every minute, everything towards that one goal of getting those Ws."