Fourteen girls from Waupaca, Iola-Scandinavia and Manawa high schools showed up Nov. 5 at the Waupaca Expo Center for the first practice of the Waupaca Area girls’ hockey team.
Most of the girls are from Waupaca, but the roster also includes two players from Iola-Scandinavia and one from Manawa.
“The goal in our program is to give girls an opportunity to play hockey,” coach Tim Guyer said. “They had the opportunity with the boys, but that made it tougher. We’re just happy it’s off the ground.”
The roster includes Waupaca’s Emily Block, Macy Carlson, Molly Guyer, Katherine Haen, McKenna Orr, Cassie Rassmussen, Christina Rassmussen, Bobbi Sue Sell, Natasha Smith, Mandy Tomlinson and Drew Vinz; Iola-Scandinavia’s Natasha Buster and Brianne Huettner; and Manawa’s Chloe Koehn.
A handful of players have experience playing on boys’ high school teams. Smith and Tomlinson suited up for the Waupaca boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams, while Huettner played last season on a co-op team of players from the Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point areas.
“There’s no question they’re good players,” Guyer said of Smith, a junior, and Tomlinson, a sophomore. “Tasha’s among the top juniors in the state and Mandy’s a tremendous player as well. In addition to that, McKenna Orr has played and my daughter Molly played varsity hockey as an eighth-grader in Minnesota.
“It was really important to get that experience,” he said. “We’re probably going to have six girls with pretty good experience playing hockey. We’re going to build this program. The girls will see a lot of ice time and my goal is to be competitive.”
The Waupaca Area Youth Hockey Association is behind getting the program off of the ground and will fund the team for the first five seasons, according to WHS athletic director Carl Eggebrecht.
WAYHA coaches Brett Grams and Bob Menzies approached school officials earlier this year about starting up a girls’ high school program.
“They approached the school board in March or April of this year and recommended a co-op program with potentially three schools: Iola-Scandinavia, Amherst and Manawa,” Eggebrecht said. “Waupaca is the primary school that oversees the program.”
“WAYHA really spearheaded this and took off with it,” Guyer said. “We had girls that were interested in playing and it gave them the opportunity. I’m just tickled that we’re going to end up with 15 or 16 girls. We can definitely field a club and I think we’ll be competitive.”
The team will be known as Waupaca Area, not Waupaca, Eggebrecht said.
“We tried to blend the uniform with the colors of the schools,” he said. “Waupaca and Amherst are blue, we added the black for Iola-Scandinavia, which is orange and black, and added red for Manawa, which is red and black. I think Tim plans on putting the logos from the four schools on each helmet.”
Instead of playing an independent schedule to get started, the team will compete in the Great Northern Conference.
“We just wanted a conference to be able to play in,” Guyer said. “We really had two options for a conference. The Great Northern is our first choice and if we had to go the Valley, I’m sure they’d take us as well.”
Besides Lakeland, Northland Pines, Tomahawk and Medford, the Great Northern has other co-op programs in Stevens Point/Wisconsin Rapids; Marshfield, which also includes Loyal, Spencer and Stratford; and Northern Edge, which includes players from Rhinelander and Antigo.
“We’re fortunate to be in the Great Northern, which gives us 14 games right off the bat,” Eggebrecht said.
Waupaca Area will open the season at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, against the Appleton Stars at the Tri-County Ice Arena in Neenah. The home opener at the Expo against Black River Falls is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3.
“We have an entire 10 days off, so that gives us more time to get ready,” Guyer said. “We really don’t hit a slew of games until the first week of December, so that gives us time to work on skating, get in shape, get used to handling the puck again and get our power play and penalty kill together.”
The nonconference schedule includes a pair of games with Black River Falls, games with Fox Valley teams and a tournament in Milwaukee.
“There are 30-plus teams in the state for girls’ hockey, so there is more travel,” Eggebrecht said.
The team practiced for 90 minutes Nov. 5.
“They were excited to play,” Guyer said. “We have a wide range of players, like we knew we would. We’re going to talk about having fun and working as hard as we can. Hard work makes up for a lot of things. We will be a hard-working team, I know that.”
Players will spend time each day working on fundamentals.
“We’re going to do skating and skills every day,” Guyer said. “I’ve been involved in coaching for almost 28 years now and I believe in skills. I coached boys’ hockey in Minnesota with Division 1 players and we still did the skills. You’re never too good of a skater, puck handler or shooter. We’re going to do the best we can to give girls an opportunity to play. That’s what it’s all about. Some girls are definitely going to play more than others, but that’s no different than any other team at any other high school. We’re going to try and win every game. If we don’t we don’t, but our goal is to win.”
Late-afternoon practices work best when it comes to lining up kids from three or four different schools, Guyer said.
“We want to make sure those kids aren’t speeding to get here,” he said. “I don’t want them driving down 49 or 54 100 miles an hour. Practice is at 4:15, you’re out of school at 3, you have plenty of time to get here.”
Keeping the program going will fall on WAYHA, Eggebrecht said.
“That’s going to be the challenge of WAYHA,” he said. “We’ve always relied on youth programs for our feeder programs. WAYHA is going to be funding the program for the next five years and we’ll renegotiate after five years.”
Guyer doesn’t think that’ll be a problem.
“We had girls in the (WAYHA) program through the early 2000s, but we just didn’t move forward with the high school program,” he said. “Our U14 program is solid now, so we’re going to have feeder system coming through and we’ll be on the map.
“To be honest, we could have done this years ago, but we didn’t,” he said. “We probably should have, but that’s OK. Today’s a new day.”
Waupaca Area Girls’ Hockey 2012-13 Schedule
Friday, Nov. 16 – at Appleton Stars, 8:30 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 26 – vs. Stevens Point/Wisconsin Rapids at Wisconsin Rapids, 5 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 3 – vs. Black River Falls, 6 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 7 – vs. University School at Milwaukee, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 8 – vs. Brookfield at Milwaukee, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 11 – at Stoughton, 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 14 – vs. Northern Edge (Antigo/Rhinelander), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 15 – vs. Green Bay United, 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 18 – vs. Appleton Stars, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 22 – vs. Northland Pines, 2 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 4 – at Marshfield, 7 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 7 – vs. Tomahawk, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 12 – at Lakeland (Minocqua), 7 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 14 – vs. Stevens Point/Wisconsin Rapids, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 15 – at Black River Falls, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 18 – at Northland Pines (Eagle River), 7 p.m.
Monday, Jan. 21 – at Medford, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 26 – vs. Northern Edge (Antigo/Rhinelander) at Antigo, 3 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 1 – vs. Marshfield, 7 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 4 – at Tomahawk, 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 8 – vs. Lakeland, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 9 – vs. Medford (Parents’ Night), 7 p.m.