The Chicago Mission girls teams have made a routine of reaching nationals in the 12 years of their existence, all under the direction of current 19U head coach Tony Cachey.
All three teams – 19U, 16U and 14U – are back at this year’s Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships in Irvine, California, after navigating a rigorous schedule.
“The biggest accomplishment is that we’ve carried on with the track record that we have,” Cachey said. “All three teams are here and all have a chance to do well.”
Erin Rourke-Smith, who coaches the 16U team that is trying to defend its national title, echoed those comments.
“It’s hard work,” Rourke-Smith said. “We start off in August with the goal to get to the national championships. That’s what the rest is all about.”
All three Mission teams won Central District titles, although their records along the way made them likely national participants before that.
"There was a sense of pride of wanting to win it,” Rourke-Smith said of the district tournament where all three teams went 2-0. “We tell the kids, ‘we want to win states. We want to win districts’.
“We want to earn our way in.”
They have done just that.
After years of following such a tough schedule, the Mission has maintained strong, prepared teams. In the case of the 19U squad, every player in this week’s tournament has nationals experience. All played in the same tournament last year or were part of the 16U national championship and many have had years of national experience as younger players.
Goalie Abigail Wieczorek returns after winning two games and posting a .962 save percentage at last year’s 19U nationals.
The Mission won its pool and advanced to the 2018 semifinals before losing to eventual champion Shattuck-St. Mary’s in the semifinals.
This year’s 19U team has a defense made up entirely of six Div. I committed players. It also has seven D-I players up front and another in goal.
Madeline Babnik, the second-leading scorer in the tournament for the 16U national champions last season with six goals and three assists, is one of the newcomers to the 19U level this season.
The 16U team returns eight players from last year’s champions, including Samantha Steciak, who won three games in goal, and Elaina Kaiser, who led the team with four assists in the tournament.
Most of the remaining spots have been filled by players who were at 14U nationals last season, but the Mission does have two new players without any such experience.
The defending champions arrive in Irvine on a seven-game winning streak in which they have allowed just two goals. The Mission is unbeaten in its last 16 with nine shutouts.
On the 14U level, Chicago made it through pool play in 2018 by splitting two overtime games and winning two of three. The Mission was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Goalie Margaret Burden and Brynn Levinson and Alexandra Laskonis, the only 14U Mission players to score multiple goals last year in Marlborough, Massachusetts, are among the players returning from that team.
But no matter the level, the expectations have grown over the years for anyone wearing a Chicago Mission sweater. Those expectations have resulted in a program with a strong reputation.
“I think the culture is such that we attract high-end players,” Cachey said. “We expect the kids to carry themselves a certain way and play a certain way and, over the years, we’ve attracted kids that want to be a part of that culture.”
Story from Red Line Editorial Inc.