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Lady Avs headed back to Nationals

Ben Husband

The Aspen Junior Girls Tier I hockey team began its season with one simple goal – to get back to the National Tournament.

After a season of hard work, dedication and an exhausting traveling schedule, the Lady Avs achieved their goal last weekend in Colorado Springs.

Aspen successfully defended its Rocky Mountain Regional title at the World Arena by crushing Phoenix 9-0 in Sunday’s championship game. The win sends Aspen back to the National Tournament, which starts April 8 in Washington D.C.

Aspen cruised through the Regional tourney en route to its second consecutive Western Regional Crown by defeating Dallas (12-0), New Mexico (10-0), Montana (12-1) and state rival Colorado Springs (2-1) prior to Sunday’s finale.

“The season just started for this team,” Lady Avs coach Wily Manering said. “This is where it all begins for this team – at Nationals.”

Bridget Davenport, who is currently on a recruiting trip at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, led the Lady Avs on the weekend with 18 points – seven goals and 11 assists.

She recorded the hat trick against Dallas and in the championship game against Phoenix. She also recorded six assists against New Mexico.

Aspen High School sophomore Ali Crum finished the tournament with five goals and 10 assists (15 points) including a five-assist outburst against Dallas.

Fellow AHS sophomore Bekka Lass, one of Aspen’s top recruits, finished the tournament with 14 points – seven goals and seven assists. She scored both goals in the semifinal game against Colorado Springs, including the game winner at 8:23 in the final period.

Jenny Rice and Carrie Holldorf rounded out the top five points leaders of the weekend with 13 and 12, respectively.

Rice finished with five goals and eight assists while Holldorf finished with four goals and eight assists.

AHS junior Sascha Anastas and Courtney Brinkerhoff made an impact, as well.

Brinkerhoff’s time on the ice was limited due to a stress fracture in her foot, but Manering said she displayed some heads-up play.

“When she comes back, we will expect her to be ready to play,” Manering added.

The goalkeeping of Kim Raymond and Molly Tompkins allowed just two goals.

Kristin Harn, one of the top defenders in the country, led an all-star defense to an “awesome display all weekend,” said Manering.

And the lineup of Harn, Kendall French, Mickey Tofte and Julianne Vasichek is “as good as any foursome defense lineup in the country,” the coach added.

“We did what we came to do,” Manering said. The coaching staff is so proud of these girls and now the real fun begins.” A painful memory After qualifying for last year’s National Tournament in Anaheim, Calif., to cap their debut season, the Lady Avs, also coached by Pete Whitmore and John McBride, suffered four of their toughest losses all season, including a 12-0 defeat to top-ranked Minnesota in the tourney’s first game.

Manering called last year’s losses “embarrassing.”

This year, Aspen devoted its season to getting back to Nationals with a grueling traveling schedule that took Aspen to tournaments in Connecticut, Minnesota and California.

“This season has been dedicated to getting back to the National Tournament,” Manering said. “The traveling we did and the top-level teams we played against was designed to help us prepare for the level of competition we will face at Nationals.

“We don’t want to have a repeat of last year’s tournament. We don’t want to just show up,” he added. “The girls have matured enough to know that making it to Nationals is a big feat for any team to accomplish.

“Last year was unbelievable for this team,” he continued, “and we didn’t really know what to expect. But now we do and we expect a lot out of our team this time around.” This year’s schedule Just as they did last year, the Lady Avs will face off with Minnesota, the nation’s second-ranked team, to kick off this year’s National play.

“They [Minnesota] are a hockey machine,” Manering said. “They make great plays and they can pass the puck, but if our defense plays the way they know how to and keeps the pressure on their players, we will have a chance.”

Kicking off last year’s season-ending tourney with a 12-0 loss to the Thoroughbreds, Manering said, was a tough start.

Facing Minnesota in the post-season opener again this year, Manering said, “we should be worried.”

“We should be concerned about Minnesota. “We will have to have our hockey hats on and play the best game of the season,” he said.

“If the game is a one-goal game either way,” the coach said, “it will give us the encouragement we need to compete in this tournament.”

The Lady Avs will also face Team California and Assabet Valley (Massachusetts) and Team Michigan – a team Aspen beat 3-2 earlier this year.

“All of the teams that are in the National Tournament other than us have a long history of hockey under their belts,” Manering said. “As a region, we are the weakest team that will be there.”

Throughout the season, Aspen was lucky to get two full days of practice in a week, whereas teams like Minnesota practice sometimes twice a day.

“Without a doubt, that’s what’s going to hurt us the most at Nationals,” Manering said. “But we did put together a tough national schedule this year and I think that was very important for this team and it will pay off once we get on the ice in Washington.”

Looking forward to Nationals, Manering has said all season long that the team’s top goal was to “go from worst to first.

“And that’s not just a saying for us,” he added. “The girls really feel they can win this thing.

“I will be disappointed if we don’t end up in the top four teams in the nation. The girls should be upset if they don’t finish in the top two,” he said.

“Going in last year, we were afraid and rightfully so,” Manering said. “I’m more afraid of how good this team can do this year. The girls can do it and they know they can and now it’s time for some excellent, brutal hockey.”


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