Back in October, the Oswego State women’s hockey team began its preseason practices with one goal: a breakout season.
Fast forward to present day and the Lakers are now preparing for the ECAC West Tournament coming off their best regular season record in program history at 13-9-3 and an 8-7-3 conference mark.
This year also marks the first time Oswego will finish with a winning record in the program’s five-year history, and establishes a new record for wins in a season after the previous best was eight wins, which was accomplished in back-to-back seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
“This year has been a great year for us and obviously the best so far in the program’s young history,” Oswego coach Diane Dillon said. “I think it’s a testament to how hard the team is working in addition to being really diligent on the recruiting side. It’s starting to really come together for us and I’m excited for the kids. Oswego is a hockey school, and with one of the best rinks, if not the best, in Division III, it’s an easy sell.”
Oswego turned heads in the offseason with an impressive recruiting class on paper, and they’ve backed it up on the ice with three newcomers in the top six scorers for the team.
“We brought in a large recruiting class with nine freshmen and two transfers,” Dillon said. “With 11 new people in the locker room, it certainly changes things. However, one of the best things about this class is how well they have integrated into the locker room with the returners. The entire freshman class has been playing and getting experience, so I think the best is yet to come.”
Leading the way has been junior forward Mackenzie Lee, a transfer from Plattsburgh with 14 goals, nine assists and 23 points. Lee is the second player in the last few years that has transferred from Plattsburgh to Oswego after Tiarra Garrow made the switch in 2008-09.
“It’s ironic, because I tried to get both of those young ladies to come their freshmen year, but they opted to go to Plattsburgh instead,” Dillon said. “They never got the chance to excel at Plattsburgh, but they were both great additions to our team.”
Freshman forward Megan Howe has also helped spark the Lakers’ offense this season with seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points to lead all freshmen on the team.
“Megan has done extremely well,” Dillon said. “She’s a natural out there and is a tremendous athlete. I don’t think she ever runs out of gas. Melissa Seamont has speed for days and has helped us spread the ice. Olivia Boersen has added a lot of grit in the corners. On defense, Jocelyn St. Clair has stepped in and she’s arguably one of our best defenseman. She’s paired with our captain and they are the dynamic duo.”
Oswego started the season off with a couple of strong statements by splitting with Adrian and then tying Elmira for the first time.
“I knew early on that we were going to be a force if we could put it all together,” Dillon said “It started right in our opening weekend when we went out to Adrian and were able to come back the second day and earn a split. In our previous years, if we didn’t do well the first day we rolled over the second day. This team is very resilient and can make changes on the fly like no team I’ve ever coached here or in my days back at Cornell.”
However, the Lakers’ crowning achievement to date for not only this season, but also in program history, was their 2-1 win upset win over previously undefeated and No. 1-ranked RIT on Feb. 12.
“The RIT win was kind of the icing on the cake to an already great regular season,” Dillon said. “We played very well the first day, but just didn’t convert on a number of scoring chances we had. However, we came back the second day and held in there when we were under siege and converted on our chances when we did get them.”
One of the big factors in the RIT win was senior goalie Emi Williams’ standout 46-save performance to help lead the Lakers to win the despite being outshot 47-15.
“Emi has been the backbone of our team the last four years and has been used to facing 70 shots or more a weekend,” Dillon said. “She’s only gotten stronger and better over her last four years, and has really come into her own this season. I think she really is arguably one of the top goaltenders in Division III women’s hockey.”
Williams is 11-8-1 with a 1.75 goals against average and a .940 save percentage, which ranks ninth in the country.
Standing in Oswego’s way from its first trip to the ECAC West final four is the fourth-seeded Neumann Knights, who are 15-6-4, withd five of their six losses to nationally-ranked Elmira, RIT and Plattsburgh.
The only other loss came to Oswego, as the two teams split their season series, with each squad winning a game 3-1.
“Neumann has been there before and they are a good club,” Dillon said. “They are on a roll right now, going unbeaten in their last eight games. We know we can skate with them though and I think we match up well with them. They have a couple of real threats that you have to watch out for, and like any other playoff game, it’s going to come down to goaltending and who gets a few bounces to go their way.”
Oswego has nine players back that were members of the 2009 squad that made the only other postseason appearance in program history. The Lakers lost 6-1 to Plattsburgh.
“The difference between this year and the last time we made the playoffs two years ago is that now we have a little bit more experience and leadership,” Dillon said. “I can’t say enough about our junior captain Kathryn Sbrocchi; she’s a great defenseman and has done an excellent job leading this team the whole season.”
Oswego will begin its quest this weekend along with every other conference’s teams (except for the MIAC) to win the postseason tournament and the coveted automatic qualifier spot in the seven-team NCAA Tournament field.
By Sunday night, 14 more teams will be eliminated, and it will set the stage for final four weekend next weekend where we’ll find out the first five teams in the NCAA Tournament.