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Women’s hockey uses NCAA tournament as benchmark for season

April 2, 2010

The women’s hockey team played in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season, losing to Gustavus Adolphus College by two goals March 13 in St. Peter, Minn.

The team made the tournament by winning the NCHA conference tournament for the second consecutive year, and earning an automatic bid. The Falcons defeated UW-Superior by one goal on March 6 earn their spot in the tournament.

However, with high team expectations coming into the season, they said that this was not the surprising finish that they were looking for.

Head Coach Joe Cranston, in his 11th season, has had plenty of experience with seasons of high expectation.

“I think this was a year of underachievement,” he said. “It’s always tough to come in off a good year like we had in 2009, and not let down a little bit. We’ve had better years, and we’ve had worse.”

Cranston was also disappointed with the way the team ended the season, by losing on the road in the NCAA tournament.

“I don’t mind that we lost to Gustavus; what bothers me is that we played that poorly in March,” he said. “That was our worst team effort in years.”

At this time last season, the Falcons were experiencing a different tournament run. They made it to the frozen four last season by defeating Gustavus 2-1, and ended up taking fourth in the tournament.

Junior goaltender Cassi Campbell said that this season was different than others in the past with the goals that the team brought in.

“This was the first time that any of us had been the team with the target on our backs as collegiate athletes, and I think that really was a big hurdle for us all season and that we struggled with that expectation all year,” she said.

Junior Forward Jessica Thompson said that the team’s effort was not enough to push them past Gustavus.

“Losing the first round NCAA playoffs wasn’t easy,” she said. “The effort was there for our team but we weren’t mentally prepared for the game.”

The expectations were not only teamwide, but nationwide as well.

According to the United States College Hockey Online Web site, the Falcons were ranked fourth in the last Div. III women’s poll, with Gustavus ranked sixth.

Gustavus lost their next NCAA tournament game to the eventual Div. III champions Amherst College.

Despite the loss in the NCAA tournament, Campbell said that the team was happy with the impressive run to get into the tournament in the first place.

“Going into the O’Brien Cup Tournament as a 3rd seed, and coming out champions for a second consecutive year was something not many teams can say they’ve done,” she said. “That was a really big accomplishment for us.”

With the completion of the season, the beginning of the offseason brings a look ahead to the next season. Cranston said that this means optimism for the team, which can use the experience from last season to play better in the next.

“Every returning player knows that they have to be a better player come fall than they are right now,” he said. “I don’t think we had that mentality last year at this time.”

Cranston also said that the team that will skate next season could be better than ever with returning players mixed with new ones.

“I feel good about next year’s team, he said. “We have a good mix of returners, along with some really good recruits.”

Campbell said that the team next year is optimistic that they can be one of the better teams in the NCHA, and possibly make a third consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.

“We’ve lost three very important and crucial members of our team, but are bringing in some freshmen that can really do some damage,” she said. “Our team is very close to one another, and I think that we all look forward to proving that we are the team to beat in not only the NCHA, but also the nation.”

Thompson also agrees that the team is optimistic for next season, and will take experiences from this season to the next.

“I feel the team has learned from our faults and can only take those experiences and grow,” she said. “I personally am extremely excited for next season and can only wish for the best.”