When Minnesota State travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State, the Mavericks will look to reverse some recent history. The Buckeyes have swept all four regular season games, including a pair last week which put the brakes on Minnesota State’s runaway second half. The Mavericks are 10-4-1 since Dec. 9. That mark includes a sweep of Minnesota, and the only other losses were to defending NCAA champion Wisconsin.
This season has been a mirror image of last, when the Mavericks started 9-4-1 and finished 2-17-3 down the stretch as injuries whittled down the roster. This season they started slow with a record of 6-11-1. So you might say until the losses to OSU last weekend – one in overtime – they were peaking at the right time. They lost all four games to OSU by a total of five goals. That 0-4 mark includes blown leads of 3-0, 3-1, and 3-2 in different games.
But there is still plenty of optimism about the coming weekend. They would have to win 2 of 3 to advance to the March 3 WCHA Final Four. To date, they have yet to win a WCHA playoff game.
“There’s plenty to motivate them,” said fifth-year head coach Jeff Vizenor. “The more we do this year, the more we set the bar for next year,”
“We had a light practice today and the kids seemed really loose,” Vizenor said on Monday. “I don’t see confidence as being a problem. They’re excited about this weekend.”
Even if things don’t go their way this weekend, the program can boast a number of firsts this season — the most important of which is the 16 wins that tied a record in the nine-year history. Going into the postseason, they are 16-15-2 overall and 12-14-2 in the conference where they finished fifth and set a school record for league wins.
As might be expected with a record-setting season, along the way a number of individual player records fell. Junior goalie Britni Kehler set a new single season record with 16 wins and her 32 victories top the career list. She had already set a single season (five) and career record for shutouts (12). She said she was completely unaware of the records.
“My grandpa called and told me,” said the Manitoba native.
Sophomore forward Maggie Fisher, who is from St. Paul, is climbing up the scoring charts. Currently she is fifth in career scoring (33-24-57) and is third in single season points (33) which also leads the team. Her 33 goals are second in career goals at MSU, two shy of the leader, and she’s first in game-wining goals with seven. With two years left to play, it’s likely Fisher will come away with all MSU offensive records when her career winds down in 2009.
Junior Kristina Bunker’s 18 assists made her the school’s all time leader in that category with a total of 41 in three years. Her 60 career points put her third on the MSU career points list, behind Tristin Stephenson, 67 points from 1999-2003 and Melanie Salatino with 63 from 2002 to 2005. Bunker is on track to become the school’s all-time career point leader if not this year then in her senior season.
Kehler said the team has to play more consistently this weekend than they have in regular season OSU games. “We’ve been up two times only to blow leads,” she said. “If we get the lead, we can’t just quit and fall back.”
Her thoughts were echoed by Lindsay Macy, a junior transfer who spent her first to years in college playing at Wisconsin. But she was homesick and didn’t feel the Badgers were the right fit.
She said some of her freshman lecture classes were larger than the population (400) of her hometown of Allendale, Minn., just a 40-minute drive from Mankato. “I come from a very small town where everybody knew each other,” she said. “Going into a class with hundreds of people felt weird.”
“I was just not happy, and I was not playing to my ability but I didn’t want to be a qutter and I felt I had to give it another year,” she said. When she was still unhappy, she realized “it was time to do something about it.” She said Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson gave her good advice about finding a proper fit and about learning to make decisions on her own.
She lived at home her redshirt year, had two shoulder surgeries and worked on getting in shape for this season.
She’s had an up and down year, starting off strong, but she has been in a drought since the holidays. “I can do better – I’m just not finishing,” Macy said. “If any time is good to come out of it, now’s the good time,” she said.
Macy said it’s fun to be part of a developing team. “The team has had a lot of firsts this year,” she said.
And now one remains — their first playoff victory. “I’m really excited,” said Macy. “There are a lot of doubters out there especially after Ohio State swept us. But the team is getting geared up and is raring to go,” she said.
Said Kehler: “The way the season has gone this year, no one can be disappointed with the way we played in the second half.”
Now if they can only finish the job.