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Women’s hockey hosts NCAA game

March 14, 2014

The UW-River Falls women’s hockey team will host a NCAA quarterfinal game for their sixth straight tournament appearance on Saturday, March 12, against Lake Forest College.

“To have three straight classes that have made the NCAA tournament in all four years of their career says a lot about my staff with me and the kind of student athletes we have. We recruit character kids who are hard workers,” Head Coach Joe Cranston said.

UW-River Falls women’s hockey team celebrates the team’s WIAC tournament and conference win on March 8.
UW-River Falls women’s hockey team celebrates the team’s WIAC tournament and conference win on March 8. (Kathy M. Helgeson/University Communications)

Senior goaltender Ashley Kuechle said it has been great to be on a team that has made the NCAA all four years of her career but the way it has ended the previous three has been rough. Gustavus Adolphus College has ended the Falcons’ season four years in a row going into this season.

“It is a motivator every year. To lose the same way to the same team every year hurts, its bad. Every year you use it as your motivator throughout the year. We have pushed for this all year to get past this point,” Kuechle said.

The women’s hockey team, like all UWRF athletic teams this season, is full of youth and that was shown in its first five games of the year when the team lost three out five games to start off the season.

Cranston said it was stressful starting off the year losing three out of five games knowing that the winner of the WIAC tournament would not receive an automatic bid into the national tournament this season.

“The freshmen on our team really had to learn what it was like to play at the college level. They could not just skate around and score goals like in high school,” Cranston said.

While youth has been a big story all over UWRF athletics this year, the one area that the women’s hockey team separates itself is in veteran leadership. The team has three senior forwards, Katie Batters, Kait Mason and Brook Story, who will potentially end up the all-time top three leading scorers in UWRF women’s hockey history, and a senior goaltender in Kuechle that broke the all-time single season shutout record this season with seven.

Mason and Batters are already the top two scorers in Falcon history with 130 and 111 points and Story sits in fourth with 96 points which is just three points behind the third all-time leading scorer, Jessica Thompson.

“It is crazy they are all a part of the same class,” Cranston said. “Being a male coach coaching a female team, I am not in the locker room as much as if I coached a male team so you have to rely on that leadership that they provide.”

After the rough start in the first five games, the Falcons have only lost one game since and are now 21-4-2 overall on the season.

“It has all come together. The defense in front of me has been great. I can’t say enough about my defense and the way the forwards play,” Kuechle said.

UWRF took care of business in the first round of the WIAC tournament beating UW-Eau Claire 8-0 and 6-1 and then went on to beat UWStevens Point 5-1 despite not having Batters who injured her knee against Eau Claire. The Falcons were the first team to ever win the NCHA postseason tournament and are now the first team to ever win the WIAC tournament for women’s hockey.

Cranston said there is a 50 percent chance Batters, the team’s leading scorer this year with 29 points, will be ready to go against Lake Forest. Lake Forest is making their first ever NCAA tournament appearance with a 17- 5-3 overall record. They won the automatic bid out of the Falcons former hockey conference, the NCHA. UWRF holds a 32-4-5 overall record against Lake Forest.

If UWRF wins they will move on to the NCAA semifinals where all games will be played at the highest remaning seed left in the tournament.

“All senior classes say this, but for us it feels like this is the year,” Kuechle said. Cranston echoed his player’s thoughts. “If there is a year to move on this is the year.”