This story has been seen before. It is all too familiar, yet surprising nonetheless. The Oswego State women’s ice hockey team is defying expectations. Following a season in which the team set a program record for wins, the Lakers are casting their magic once again, and leaving all those who bet against them, pleasantly baffled.
With their 1-0 win against Utica College on Tuesday, the Lakers move to 14-4-1 on the season, and are looking to pass the 17-win mark they set last winter. With six games left in the season, the Lakers are pleased with their chances, but are setting their sights much higher than breaking team records.
Sitting at third place in the ECAC Women’s West conference, only behind the top two teams in the nation, Elmira College and SUNY Plattsburgh, the Lakers are looking to make some serious noise, once they head to the playoffs later this month.
Although the Lakers were met with many doubters before the start of the season, one who always believed this team was capable of such greatness, was head coach Diane Dillon.
“Am I surprised [at the team’s success]? No,” Dillon said. “I am thrilled? Absolutely.”
Dillon is nearing her 100th win as coach of the Lakers, with 97 currently, and is no stranger to managing expectations for her teams.
“Every team is different,” Dillon said. “It’s a compilation of different personalities, different talents, different strengths and different weaknesses. You’ve got to build; we’re a young team, and it’s about little successes.”
The Lakers have received an extreme amount of production from their freshman class, with their top three points scorers all being of the first-year class, but Dillon continues to give credit to the leading upperclassmen, as the glue of the team.
“First and foremost you have to look at the top, at our leadership,” Dillon said. “Those girls have done an excellent job at assimilating the new players into the Laker culture.”
One of the aforementioned Laker leaders is junior goalkeeper Tori Trovato, who was granted the title of captain before the start of the season. The humble Trovato was singled out by Dillon as an instrumental force for the Lakers, but credited her teammates with guiding the team both on the ice, as well as in the locker room.
“I see all of the upperclassmen as leaders, in one way or another,” Trovato said. “Our team consists of only five upperclassmen, and we all play a key role in leading the team.”
As a junior, Trovato is now hungrier than ever for that ECAC Women’s West title, and a national title as well.
“We’re determined to fight to the end,” says Trovato. “Our team won’t be satisfied until we have the NCAA rings on our fingers.”
Trovato and senior teammate Bridget Smith are both in the midst of strong seasons, with Smith owning the best save percentage in Div. III women’s ice hockey, but goalkeeping is only one half of the story. After struggling at times to score goals last season, the Lakers have put their woes in the rear-view-mirror, and look to be one of the better scoring teams in the league for years to come.
One of the main reasons for this optimism: the output from the new Lakers.
Freshman Olivia Ellis has been nothing short of brilliant for Oswego State, tied for the team lead with seven goals, and leading the team with 11 assists.
Sophomore transfer Briana Rice, at 6 feet tall, has also netted seven goals, and has been a physical force for the Lakers since the season commenced.
One of the other quick-to-contribute Lakers is freshman Rachel Lenard. She looks to be a major player for the Lakers for the next three seasons.
With five goals and five assists, Lenard is already a factor for Oswego State, and her stock is rising. Lenard acknowledges that her freshman class was granted a heavy amount of responsibility this season, after the team parted ways with nine seniors from last year.
“I think there was a lot of pressure [on the freshman] because of the players the team lost,” Lenard said. “With so few upperclassmen, we had no choice but to come in and make an impact right away.”
Lenard also admits there are changes to be made when moving to the Div. III ice hockey level.
“When you play travel hockey, you’re only on the ice 3 days a week,” Lenard said. “Being on the ice six days a week, it gets tiring, you have to adapt. You need to make sure you’re taking care of your body and your health, and you have to put in the work to win.”
Lenard and the Lakers are not only playing for themselves, but for the supremely close group of teammates they have developed around them, as well.
“The teammates we have here, we’re like a family,” Lenard said. “It’s about more than one person, you just have to go out there and work hard for your teammates.”
One of those teammates is the fiery sophomore Erika Truschke, who can easily be identified on the ice by her short height and wicked tenacity.
Truschke has seen a major increase in her role this season, and insists that her hard-nose effort on the ice is merely her natural style of play.
“I think it comes with how I have to react,” Truschke said. “With me being so small, I have to be able to throw my body around. I have to play a little bit stronger than everybody else, to be able to fight people off, and compensate [for her height].”
With a year under her belt as a Laker, Truschke’s role off the ice has changed as well.
“I think the biggest change this year has been being more of a leader,” Truschke said. “It’s trying to show the new players what is expected of you, as a player. Helping them through the ropes, and understanding what my role is, and what I need to accept.”
Though fervent on the ice, Truschke’s awareness of her team responsibilities, should give the Lakers optimism that they have found yet another leader for the next two years.
The Lakers have delicately balanced confidence with level-headedness. A reflection of their head coach, the Lakers understand what it means to truly play team ice hockey. The talent is there, the production is there and to this point in the season, the results have been there too. The Lakers appropriately have their eyes set on rings and titles this season, and all those who watch this great group of athletes will likely agree; the future is shining brightly for the Oswego State Lakers.