Not bad for a program that didn’t even exist three years ago.
The Waupaca Area girls’ hockey team sealed its first-ever Great Northern Conference championship over the weekend with 9-0 and 8-2 wins over Lakeland and Tomahawk, respectively.
Waupaca Area, now 10-1 in conference play, won the championship outright after Northern Edge and Northland Pines skated to a 2-2 tie Feb. 9.
The team will wrap up the regular season at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13, with a rescheduled GNC matchup with Tomahawk before opening WIAA state tournament play at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, against Fond du Lac at the Waupaca Ice & Expo Center.
Waupaca Area is seeded third in its sectional bracket, while Fond du Lac is a No. 6 seed. The winner of that tournament game will likely face No. 2 seed and defending state championship Green Bay East Tuesday, Feb. 24, in a sectional semifinal.
Waupaca 9, Lakeland 0
Any chance the Thunderbirds had of pulling off the upset didn’t last long, as four different players scored for Waupaca Area in the first period.
Christina Rasmussen opened the scoring 3:29 into the game, while Brianne Huettner, Mandy Tomlinson and Markie Ash also found the net to give the visitors a 4-0 advantage at the break.
Ash and Huettner scored in the second period, while Tomlinson, Jamie Slattery and Avery Simonson added goals in the final period.
Waupaca Area outshot the Thunderbirds 39-6 and goalie Cassie Rasmussen recorded her fourth shutout of the season.
Tomlinson had four assists in the game to go along with her two goals, while Ash and Huettner added two assists and Simonson, Christina Rasmussen and Katerina Otter added one each.
“We’re champions,” coach Tim Guyer said. “It was a lot of hard work and a lot of struggles and things just came together for us this year. They showed up all summer, they showed up all year. I can’t say enough about the girls in that locker room.”
Waupaca 8, Tomahawk 2
The Hatchets led 2-1 after scoring a pair of first-period goals in a span of 2:15, but Waupaca Area responded with seven unanswered goals.
Ash opened the scoring 4:57 into the game, but Tomahawk’s Taylor Tomaszewski and Erika Vallier scored to give the Hatchets a 2-1 lead.
Ash tied the score with a power play goal and gave Waupaca Area the lead for good later in the opening period.
Tomlinson scored three straight goals in the second period and Simonson gave Waupaca Area a 7-2 lead before Ash scored her fourth goal of the game in the third period.
Tomlinson and Ash had four and two assists, respectively, while Simonson and Huettner added one each.
Waupaca Area also outshot the Hatchets 41-24.
“To be honest, our girls are so competitive,” Guyer said. “I don’t think they was any way they weren’t going to play well. They jumped on us 2-1, but once we got the second goal, we just put on the gas and took over the game. Markie had the hat trick in the first period and Mandy followed that up in the second period.
“The whole team played well,” he said. “You could just tell it was going to be our night.”
Waupaca Area’s only losses came to University School of Milwaukee and Northland Pines.
“Our top line is the leading scoring line in the state,” Guyer said. “It’s a tough matchup for other teams. It’s a really good line. When you have that and you start to do the math, they’re going to score. It worked out and we’ve been able to score goals.”
Cassie Rasmussen’s play at goalie has also been a reason for the team’s success, according to Guyer.
“She started out three years ago never playing goalie in her life,” he said. “If you look at her now, it’s pretty amazing to see where she’s come. It’s really humbling to see it because she’s so much better than she was.”
Guyer said his team’s first win over Northern Edge – 6-5 in overtime – in the GNC opener Dec. 1 helped set the tone for the season.
“That was the key for the season for us,” he said. “We got an overtime win and the girls looked at each other and said, ‘We can.’ They believed it all the way. Our girls just never stopped believing.”