LAKE PLACID - Clinching New York's under-19 title and claiming a championship at the annual Northwood Tournament were two goals the National Sports Academy girls hockey team accomplished this season.
Next year, the Mountaineers can add a third mission on their to-do list: win a national championship.
A week ago, NSA's girls came up a little short of achieving that objective this year when they were eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the Tier 1 national under-19 tournament in Marlborough, Mass. The Mountaineers won their first two games by a combined 16-3 score, then suffered two setbacks to finish the tourney with a 2-2 mark. A 2-1 loss to Chicago Mission in a quarterfinal game on March 31 ended NSA's season.
Players from the National Sports Academy girls hockey team, along with coaches Bill Ward and Kelli Vossler, celebrate their Northwood Invitational championship at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid on Jan. 22.
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News file photo
After seeing his team ousted, Mountaineers head coach Bill Ward stuck around to watch the rest of the tournament, which ended with Assabet Valley edging Mission 2-1 in the championship final on Sunday. The Mountaineers finished with a 42-21-11 record, and with some very talented players returning to the team next season, Ward is optimistic about NSA's chances for success for the next campaign.
"I stayed and watched and evaluated what we need to do to win it," Ward said. "We're not far off. We're really close."
The trip to the national U19 tournament was the second in school history for NSA's girls team, which also reached the quarterfinal round two years ago. With a slew of young guns, as well as the Mountaineers top goaltender expected to come back next season, advancing deeper into the nationals in 2013 is definitely in the sights of one of the nation's premier girls prep school hockey programs.
"The structure is in place for us," Ward said. "We are now at the point where the best players in the country are looking at NSA as one of their options. We had a good year, but we could have done better. The nice thing is that we won the state championship and the Northwood tournament. We've won them both before, but never in the same season. That's something we wanted to do, and we got it done."
During the national tournament, NSA was without one of its top players as Denisa Krizova was competing in Latvia in world championship B pool play with her native country the Czech Republic, which left left the Mountaineers with eight forwards. Ward said missing the high-scoring sophomore may have hampered his team's chances of winning either one of its last two games.
Individually, it was a record-setting year for NSA sophomore forward Taylar Cianfarano, who obliterated the previous scoring mark for the girls hockey program. Beth Hanrahan, who recently finished her first season skating with the Providence College Friars, held the record at NSA after piling up 102 points two seasons ago. This year, Cianfarano, an Oswego native, notched 70 goals and 55 assists for 125 points, and achieved the feat while missing nine of the 74 games the Mountaineers played.
Junior Megan Widdon, who hails from Redondo Beach, Calif., also surpassed the old mark with 108 points on 46 goals and 62 assists. Widdon was actually the top point getter in this year's national tournament with 6 goals and 4 assists in four games played. The teams that reached the championship game played six games.
Ward said Krizova was also on track to top the record with 95 points in 58 games played.
Sarah Foss, a junior from North Reading, Mass. was the top goaltender of the three in NSA's lineup and is expected to return to anchor the Mountaineers defense next season. Sophomore captain Cali Flanagan of Burlington, Mass. was another one of the many impact players on the team who Ward described as one of the top defensive players in the country.
"We got huge exposure for our girls this year," Ward said. "Wisconsin, which is the top (NCAA) DI program in the country, is interested in four of our players from this year. Now we are considered one of the best programs in the country.
"It took a lot of work to get there, and it will take a lot of work to maintain that level," Ward continued. "We've reached the point where we have to turn girls away but we still have holes to fill. That's always an ongoing process."