Coaches are constantly seeking to bring their athletes to the next step, the next level. For St. Thomas coach Tom Palowski, most of the energy directed into his work has already paid handsome dividends, as it is a resume that would be envied by most neophyte coaches. As such, Palowski is about to reach the lofty plateau of 100 career wins with the Tommies in just his seventh season. Still, the accolade that Palkowski most desires is an extended outing, one that could find his crew in the position to contend for the national championship.
After 13 consecutive winning campaigns, the Tommies have a lone NCAA top four finish to speak of. Back in the 2002-03 season, St. Thomas, under then coach Kevin Gorg, compiled a 19-7-2 record on the way to the tournament. Palkowski took the reins in 2007-08 and immediately guided his club to a 21-win season.
After jetting out to an overall 4-1-0 slate thus far, the Tommies coach is set to take the next step, hoping this season will be the golden one.
“Our goal is to continue to try and develop and improve throughout the season,” said Palkowski. “I think it’s just a matter of consistency. Over the years, we have played the top end teams fairly even, but tend to have a hiccup or two during the year which has cost us. We have been pretty stingy on giving up goals, but have struggled a little getting goals at crucial times. So, we hope to capitalize this season at those times and make this a special season.”
The Tommies have indeed been stingy in their own end in an historical context. Thus far, the offense has been a pleasant focal point of Palkowski’s club. Sophomores Courtney Umland and Rachel Friberg have led the club in scoring so far, combining for nine points in five outings.
A successful merging of offense and defense is the favored scenario that might extend their season into the deep postseason.
Part of the above equation falls squarely on the shoulder pads of senior goalie Alise Riedel. The Hudson, Wis., native has been the go-to goaltender since she arrived on campus. Although her statistical profile has not been as strong as her body of work in her first three season, the size of the sample is a bit small for Palkowski to be concerned.
“I guess for so many years I have not had to worry about goaltending and Alise just has continued that trend,” Palkowski said of Riedel, who has had three seasons of a GAA under 2.00. “She’s a unique individual, like most goalies. She’s a great competitor and has a lot of confidence, which is a great quality for that position. With us only carrying two goalies the past few years, she sees a lot of pucks on a daily basis. This helps keep her focused, makes her work, and makes it difficult for our players to score during practice. She has always started the seasons a little slow, and then just keeps getting tougher as the season goes on, so we look for her to keep getting better as we get into the heart of the schedule.”
Like her coach, Riedel is also within a reachable milestone, as she is one victory shy of 40 wins for her career at St. Thomas. Palkowski also acknowledges that Riedel will have a healthy amount of support in getting everyone on the same page.
“We have nine seniors this season, and they are a quality group,” Palkowski said. “From the classroom to the ice, they have really been a terrific group of leaders. We hope to use and ride their experience throughout the season.”
As for Palkowski, the personal high water mark was reflective.
“I guess I hadn’t thought about it much. It’s just a number, and hopefully will come sooner rather than later. Obviously, it takes a combination of many things to get there. Quality student athletes, a good coaching staff, and administration that supports and believes in what you’re doing. It’s been a lot of fun, and as long as that continues, I hope to continue for a few more years.”