Colorado Rubber

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Lady Grizzlies’ 19U AA team repeats as district champions

 

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What a difference a year makes.

The Utah Lady Grizzlies 19U AA team won the Rocky Mountain District (RMD) title in 2015, but coach Stan Weiss said it “was almost a surprise.”

Going into the RMD tournament March 11-13 in Westminster, Colo., there were no surprises as the Lady Grizzlies took both games from the Colorado Select, 7-1 and 6-0.

“The girls have a lot more belief than the team has had in the past,” Weiss said. “Belief in themselves, belief in the coaches, belief in the system of hockey they are being taught to play and belief in each other.”

With the district title, the Lady Grizzlies now head out to Burlington, Vt., for the USA Hockey Youth Nationals from March 31-April 4.

“The success they enjoyed last year in being the first Utah girls team to ever make it to nationals was key to this belief,” Weiss said. “Last year, it was almost a surprise to them that they won districts and they were pretty awestruck when they arrived at nationals. This year is different. They believe that they deserve to go to nationals and are determined to be a factor in the tournament this year.”

In sweeping the Select, Danielle Shiflett earned both wins in goal, while Kyra Dellerman and Isabelle Hendry each posted two goals and an assist. Gabrielle Hicks and Jasmine Weiss both posted a goal with two assists in the district event.

Weiss called his squad a very goal-driven team.

“Importantly, the goals come from the girls themselves – they are not the coach’s goals,” explained Weiss. “At the beginning of the year, the team decided they wanted to return to nationals and improve upon our tied-for-eighth-place result. The coaches told them that goals without appropriate actions are just words. The organization then set out to provide a program of development, conditioning and competition that would enable the team to reach its goal. It is interesting to note that the girls wholeheartedly embraced the commitment model, which unified the team in its determination to work hard and sacrifice in order to achieve this goal.”

And with yearly turnover, Weiss noted that the seven returning players meshed well with the eight new players brought in this season.

“It has been very gratifying to watch the new players embrace the systems, programs and culture of success that was built in the previous two years,” Weiss said. “The integration of the new players has been seamless because of the examples of unity and enthusiasm from the returning players. As such, the team began the season far more advanced than the team had begun the previous year. The maturity and confidence grew from there.

“So how has it grown and improved? In belief, confidence, unity and camaraderie. And these attributes have led to the physical manifestations of improved skills and systems implementation on the ice.”

Losing six players from the 2014-15 team was tough, but last year’s successful season helped recruit new talent to the Lady Grizzlies.

“In prior years, losing six key players would have devastated the team,” said Weiss. “However, the success we enjoyed last year attracted the attention of every talented young female hockey player in the state. Suddenly, there was a girls program that was aspirational and motivational. There was no longer a need to have an inferiority complex when it came to girls hockey in Utah. As such, we had the vast majority of talented girls players in the state come to our tryouts, some of which had only played boys hockey in the past, plus a couple of surprises from out of state who were surprised that Utah had a team of this caliber.”

Next up – the trip 2300 miles due East to Burlington.

“Our expectations are to improve upon the eighth place finish in last year’s nationals,” noted Weiss. “Our goal is to be a final four competitor. And if you can make it to the final four, anything can happen. And for this team, good things usually do happen.”

— Matt Mackinder