The logistics of putting together a team from nine different cities and towns around their rural state result in Team Wyoming only conducting about a half a dozen practices over the course of the season.
Team-building exercises, however, go on throughout the season. Even when the girls are apart, playing for their hometown teams — often getting ready to compete against each other — they have projects that coach Titia Leisz hopes help them bond.
Team Wyoming has extra time together now after winning the Northern Plains District Tier II 19-and-Under championship series to land a spot in the USA Hockey National Championships in Amherst, N.Y.
“We need to step on the ice and be a team,” Leisz said. “If I can get them to care about each other, they play better.
“They’re a great bunch of young ladies. They’ve just been a joy to coach.”
Leisz appreciates the girls who make up the team and wants to make sure they see each other as teammates rather than as competitors from the nine teams that make up Wyoming’s in-state girls’ league during the regular season.
Team Wyoming gets together for a preseason practice weekend and periodically throughout the season for tournaments.
While winning a Martin Luther King Weekend tournament together in Ogden, Utah, Leisz knew the players would not gather as a team again until Presidents Day weekend when they played for the Northern Plains District title in Butte against the Montana Big Sky Wildcats.
Each of the 25 days in between, the girls took a picture of something special in their life and submitted it to Leisz with a caption explaining it. When they met again, they shared the “25 Days of Gratitude” project.
As they shared stories about friends, families and each of their own love and support systems (and more than a few pictures of pets), they were reminded just how much they had in common despite their limited time together.
Although they keep their hockey systems relatively simple and unchanged from season to season, Team Wyoming is growing and becoming stronger.
The team that makes its third national appearance in five years will arrive in the Buffalo area with a 14-4-3 record and an edge in the annual battle with the Montana Big Sky Wildcats. Team Wyoming and Montana have met the last five years and alternated victories.
Through the years the average age of Team Wyoming 19U squad has gotten a little older with the development of a 14U feeder team. When the team first headed to nationals, it included players as young as 12, playing against opponents as many as seven years older.
High school seniors Sierra Alarid, Bailey Coons, Kelsey Cross, Morgan Praska and Lindsay Sullivan will all be playing in their third national tournament. Jenni Johnson, a junior who along with Sullivan comes to the team from Gillette, helped lead them there.
“She didn’t score many goals for us until we got to the state tournament, then she had five,” Leisz said.
Johnson brought Team Wyoming back from a pair of two-goal deficits in the third period, scoring two goals while Sullivan had one.
Johnson’s second goal, off an assist from Sullivan, with 12 seconds left in regulation forced overtime in the opener of the best-of-three series. Sullivan then assisted Aubrey Larsen’s overtime game-winner.
The trip to nationals was secured the next night with a 4-3 win in which Johnson scored a hat trick, including the third-period game-winner.
Alarid, who had three assists, and Cross, who had two, combined to set up the winning goal. Hannah Pooley made 22 saves in the win.
Leisz is hoping the more experienced team is ready to continue Team Wyoming’s progress on the national level. After going winless in the team’s first nationals appearance, the squad picked up its first national victory in Texas in 2012.
“This group has nine seniors and is very mature,” Leisz said. “They’ve been playing with each other a long time and we’re kind of excited about this.
“Defensively, usually our teams are pretty good, but our offense this second half of last year and this year has been scoring more goals. It’s the first time we’ve had a team where all three lines are scoring goals.”
The national tournament will be the end of a very busy season for the players who make up Team Wyoming.
“We have very dedicated players,” Leisz said.
Natasha Aiken, Conner Coleman, Kirsi Anselmi-Stith and Cross played on teams in the Wyoming girls’ league and on their association’s Midget boys’ teams along with Team Wyoming. Bailey Coons, Mollyshae Cadwell, Abigail Ennis and Sullivan play on Midget teams and Team Wyoming. The rest of the team plays in the girls’ league in addition to on the district champions.
When they arrive in Amherst, collectively they will have just one set of teammates with which to concentrate their efforts.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.