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One tournament to go before Nationals

Ben Husband

Only one tournament stands in the way of the Aspen Junior Girls Tier I hockey team’s shot at redemption.

The Lady Avs will travel to Colorado Springs Friday for the Western Regional Championships at the World Arena.

With a win, the Lady Avs will advance to the National Tournament for the second consecutive season. This year’s National Tournament will be played in Washington, D.C.

A second straight Regional crown would also give the Lady Avs a chance at redeeming what coach Wily Manering called “embarrassing losses” at last year’s post-season finale in Anaheim, Calif.

In its debut season last year, Aspen came home empty-handed from Nationals. Their 0-4 record there included shutout losses to both Minnesota (12-0) and Connecticut (10-0).

But this year, the Lady Avs have been determined all season long to return to Nationals and prove they belong there.

“We want to go from worst to first,” Manering said. “Why not? This team feels they can go all the way.

“Last year, we were embarrassed at Nationals,” he continued. “We gave it a valiant effort, but this year we’re a grown-up young hockey team and we know what to expect when and if we get there.”

But Aspen will have to get past Regionals first.

At the Regional tourney, Aspen will face state rival Colorado Springs as well as New Mexico, Dallas, Phoenix, Montana, Wyoming and Utah. The top two teams with the best records will face each other in Sunday’s championship game. The winner advances to Nationals.

“I think we are confident enough to know that we are going to win this weekend,” Aspen defender Kristin Harn said. “But I don’t think we’re too overconfident.”

Aspen has faced and defeated all the Regional teams except Montana and Wyoming this season.

Despite their earlier successes, Manering says it’s a whole new ball game come playoff time.

“We will have a mental edge over these teams going into the tournament,” he said. “But anything can happen, so we have to be prepared to play Aspen hockey.

“The girls are confident with themselves that they can win this thing and get back to Nationals,” Manering added.

Aspen assistant coach Pete Whitmore agreed that anything can happen. “All it takes is one goal to beat you,” he said.

“I think the players who are really confident are the ones who are committed to winning,” said Aspen first-year goalkeeper Kim Raymond. “As long as we stay committed and focused, I don’t think we’re going to have any problems.”

“We have a stronger team and we’re more confident this year,” Bridget Davenport added. “We all want to get back to Nationals, so we all know how important this weekend is.”

“We are going to go in and work our butts off and earn our right to be at Nationals,” Harn vowed.


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