Despite going through some growing pains last season, the girls hockey team staff is encouraged by a strong influx of new talent that could augur well for the future.
“It’s been exciting to see new young kids come in and invigorate the program like we hoped they would,” said head coach Corey Cooper of her squad, which features eight lower mids and eight preps out of 28 skaters.
Cooper is the first to give credit to previous head coach John Cooper for assembling the talent that nearly reached the NEPSAC playoffs in 2018-2019, her first year at the helm. That team, powered by a veteran senior core, tripled its win total from the previous season.
Freed from the constraints of preparing for two or three games per week, the Bearcats have been able to make some program-level choices that could pay future dividends – including, for example, keeping a larger roster than usual. Players who might otherwise been on the JV team are gaining valuable experience from this year’s varsity practices, and can develop more quickly, said Cooper.
This year’s focus has also been on developing various skills that the weekly grind does not always give a coach time to emphasize, said Cooper. One of these has been strength and conditioning, and the Bearcats have been working in the weight room with Director of Athletic Performance and Fitness Brodie Quinn several times per week.
After being away from campus for several months, Cooper said she expects her players to return in February eager to get back on the ice. “When we get back, the kids will be hungry to learn again and push the tempo,” she said. “Even though the action is all intrasquad, it doesn’t mean the competition isn’t there.”
As the skill level of the players on the roster has risen over the last three seasons, the team has been able to shift its focus away from fundamentals to higher-level concepts, said Cooper. “We’ve got a lot of hockey minds in here. They’re very teachable in terms of systems, as well as learning on the spot,” she said.
When the team resumes practice for the last month of the season, Cooper said the focus will be on various systems that returning players will be able to carry over to next season, including both offense and special teams – concepts that can be difficult to refine while simultaneously preparing for the next day’s game.
Cooper also gave kudos to her upper mid and senior leaders on the team, particularly co-captains Maggie Hatch ’21 and Lizzie Burke ’21.
Although many players missed not being able to join their club teams on weekends this year, they did appreciate having ice go down in September and having many more weeks for skating and practice than in a typical season.
“Kids who love to be in the rink were there all the time,” said Cooper.