In only its fourth year of the program, the Team South Dakota Girls 19U Tier II team has earned recognition at the national level.
The team qualified for the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier II National Championships for the fourth straight year by winning the USA Hockey Northern Plains District 19U Tier II Tournament title. It was dominant in a two-game sweep of Team Wyoming.
“We’re just trying to build a tradition and make it a yearly thing,” Team South Dakota coach Donovan Peterson said. “We’ve been concentrating on the 16s and 19s. We’re trying to build our program from the ground up and we’ve been pretty successful.”
It always helps in building a solid program when there are strong players to utilize. Peterson had a good group of returning players this year.
“It’s kind of tough, we’re a small group,” Peterson said. “We don’t have a huge pool of players to draw from, so we try to keep the competition good in the fall and get out and play as many games as we can without burning the parents out and the players out.”
With some of his newer players coming from the 16U team that advanced to nationals in 2017 and 2018, all but three players on this year’s 19U squad have nationals experience.
“They know we get there early and we try to practice at the host facility, just to try and get the jitters out of where we’re at,” Peterson said. “They’ve been there enough now that they can do it and they want to play on Monday — we want to be there until the end. I think they all have the experience of going more than one year, and I think that will help a lot.”
For the district championship, Team South Dakota took on Team Wyoming in a best-of-three series. After about an eight-hour car ride to Gillette, Wyoming, Team South Dakota was a little slow out of the gate in Game 1 but still pulled off a 3-0 victory on Friday, March 15. The next day, Team South Dakota secured its nationals berth with a 9-1 triumph.
“My girls didn’t want to play a third game,” Peterson joked. “They wanted to make sure they closed it out.”
And they closed it out in style.
It’s been a strong season for Team South Dakota. It will go into nationals with a 19-5-1 record with all the team’s regular-season games taking place in the fall before regrouping in the spring just one week before the district tournament.
“We’ve got a lot of multi-sport athletes in the fall with soccer and volleyball,” Peterson said. “It’s tough to get commitment out of everybody in the fall. It’s hard to work around all the schedules and go from there.”
Team South Dakota primarily pulls from six cities in the state: Brookings, Aberdeen, Watertown, Mitchell, Sioux Falls and Huron. Since the area of where the players vie from is so spread out, the team typically practices on weekends.
“We have five girls from one town that they play a lot together all winter long, so that helps them,” Peterson said. “The rest of our lines, they all have a common desire to get better and be stronger hockey players.”
It’s a talented group of girls.
“We’ve pretty much got all the best players in the state,” Peterson said. “Of our first- and second-team All-State players, I’ve got 10 of the 12 kids playing on this team.”
Peterson said he has a few standout players but it’s a well-rounded team.
“Any one of our three lines can contribute, and we don’t have a problem about rolling all three and have a problem who’s on the ice,” Peterson said. “Our D is really defensive-minded and our forwards are really offensive-minded. But they help out, backcheck hard. We are not super speedy, but we move the puck well.”
Getting to nationals last year was a great accomplishment, but the girls left wanting more. After advancing to the quarterfinals the first two years, they failed to get out of pool play in 2018.
“The first year we went we lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion and two years ago we lost in the quarterfinals to a team that was in the finals that year,” Peterson said. “This is probably the most talented team we’ve had in a couple years since that team two years ago. They all get along, that’s what I really like about this team.”
The goal again this year for Team South Dakota is to get back to the quarterfinals at nationals in Buffalo, New York, and see if they can get even further.
“I’m excited, I think the girls are excited,” Peterson said. “Obviously, we don’t know what we’re going to run into, all you can see is what you see on paper. We’ve seen a couple of the teams that we know will be there, but that’s about it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.