The Oswego State women’s hockey team’s season ended with a 1-0 loss to SUNY Plattsburgh, but this defeat was not so much a loss as it was the culmination of the best season this Laker team has ever had.
This season the Lakers completed many goals. With a conference record of 8-8-2, the Lakers were one of only two SUNY teams to be over .500 (Plattsburgh is the other). They took on challenging non-conference opponents, Amherst College and Adrian College, and still finished with an overall record of 11-14-2.
The most significant accomplishment for the team was playing strong games against the top teams in the division. The Lakers played one-goal games against each team in the top three, Plattsburgh, Elmira and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
“We solidified ourselves as one of the top teams in the ECAC West and we proved finally that we belong there and that we can play with those teams,” head coach Diane Dillon said. “That was the big difference.”
Behind the leadership of senior captains Kathryn Sbrocchi and Jillian Bergeron, the Lakers made the playoffs for the second straight year and this time they won their opening round game.
“Making it back to the playoffs was huge,” Dillon said. “Winning that game and winning it convincingly I think really set the tone for the future of Laker hockey, that’s the minimum standard now.”
The Lakers beat the Neumann Knights, 3-0, for not only the first playoff win in program history but the first home playoff win as well.
Dillon said a major part of the team’s success this season was a result of strong leadership in the locker room, especially on the part of Sbrocchi, who has also served as a core part of the defense.
“I think having Sbrocchi and Bergeron as senior captains two years in a row was a huge asset,” Dillon said. “Sbrocchi has really been the heart and soul of this team and she showed her leadership down the stretch and her desire to win and bring her teammates along with her. I think she really inspired the team.”
While the season was a success, it was also not without its difficulties. These hard times, however were part of what made the Lakers a stronger team down the stretch.
“The struggles that we had in November with Cortland and Potsdam…that really kind of was a wakeup call,” Dillon said.
A loss and tie against Potsdam and a tie against Cortland marred the month of November. By the end of the season those were points Dillon said the team wished they could have back.
The Lakers bounced back in December against Neumann, and in this series sweep they proved maturity and growth as a team.
“Against Neumann in December we proved that we could play,” Dillon said. “I think the team started to come together in that they knew what it was going to take to win.”
In the second half of the season the Lakers had a challenging schedule, playing all three top teams, but it was at this point in the season that the Laker offense came alive.
“When we had convincing games against Plattsburgh and Elmira we started to peak at the right time in the second half, and that’s when I knew as a coach we were ready for the playoffs,” Dillon said.
When star goaltender Emi Williams graduated last year the team knew it would be tough to replace her. This season two goalies stepped up to the plate, sophomore Catherine Cote and freshman Bridget Smith, providing the Lakers with the benefit of having two able goaltenders.
“We had a one-two punch all season long,” Dillon said. “That afforded us a lot of opportunities to do different things.”
Although losing to Plattsburgh by only a one-goal margin in the ECAC West Semifinals was not a bad way to end the season, there are always things that could have made the team more prepared to win.
“I think we needed to be in the weight room more. We needed to be stronger,” Dillon said. “I wish we developed a little bit more of our offensive potency a little sooner.”
Despite this, Dillon said she was very pleased with her team’s performance and drive throughout the year and is excited for an even better season next year.
“What was most gratifying for me as a coach was that the team really responded and we performed better in the division than we ever have,” Dillon said. “We have the toughest division in women’s hockey and to perform better and better against the powerhouse teams really showed that we are ready to take that next step.”
The face of the ECAC West has already changed for next season as Oswego State rival RIT, which was ranked No. 1 for much of the season, moves up to Division I.
“RIT is going Division I and that opens up another spot at the top,” Dillon said. “We lose a little bit of strength in the division but I think it’s another opportunity for a SUNY team to step right up.”
While the Lakers lose seven seniors this year, there is only one rising senior, defender Breanne Reith, to lose next year. This, combined with the strength of the sophomore and freshmen classes, assures the Lakers two more seasons of great hockey.
“Overall I was very happy with the way the freshmen developed, how the seniors lead and most of the team is still young,” Dillon said. “The future looks bright.”