This Week in D-III Women’s Hockey: Nov. 29, 2007

Two Unpredictable Weeks Down …

… and more on the horizon?

To say a lot has happened in women’s Division III hockey over the past two weeks is an understatement. The top ranked team in the nation went from an ultimate high, winning the Panther-Cardinal Classic, to losing the next weekend and snapping their NCAA Division III record 35-game unbeaten streak. Also, a first year program was ranked in the top 10 after splitting a series with eighth ranked Wisconsin-Superior. Finally, coming into this weekend’s play, there are just three unbeaten Division III teams left standing after the NESCAC and remaining ECAC East schools finally started up their seasons two weeks ago.

Plattsburgh was starting to look like they might never lose again after the Panther-Cardinal Classic, so long as Danielle Blanchard is still on the team. The junior forward from Newmarket, Ont., scored all five goals the Cardinals scored in the tournament on their way to defeating Williams 2-0, and then Middlebury in the championship 3-2. Last weekend, Plattsburgh traveled down to Manhattanville to take on the eighth ranked Valiants, a team they had never lost to. Manhattanville was also coming off a loss to their biggest rival for the ECAC East title in St. Anselm. Chalk up two more wins for the Cardinals, right?

Not so fast.

Manhattanville shocked the Cardinals and the rest of the college hockey world, ending the longest unbeaten streak in women’s Division III history, as well as the longest active win streak in college hockey with their 4-3 win.

“We didn’t really focus much on their win streak,” said Manhattanville coach Lauren McAuliffe. “We wanted to prove ourselves against a good team. We started training, preparing, and working hard for the season in August and corrected the little small things that allow us to beat a team like Plattsburgh.”

Senior forward Amanda Nonis from Brampton, Ont., led the way for the Valiants tallying a hat trick on the day.

“Nonis steps up for us in the big games,” McAuliffe said. “But I’ve never seen her step up and put the team on her back like that before.”

Sophomore Sophia Kokkonis (East Meadow, N.Y.) picked up the win in goal for the Valiants stopping 23 shots while improving her season record to 3-1-0.

The next day though, Plattsburgh righted the ship and defeated Manhattanville 2-1 after falling behind 1-0 in the first period.

“Overall we had a positive weekend getting two points from the number one team in the country,” McAuliffe said. “We didn’t play that great on Sunday but we showed our potential. I think we were a little underrated coming into the weekend’s games but we proved to the country and ourselves we can compete with anyone.”

Adrian continued their memorable inaugural season two weeks ago when they split with NCHA powerhouse and at the time, eighth-ranked Wisconsin-Superior giving the Bulldogs their newest big win in the program’s short history. Ashley Aiken, Nicole Zynda, and Andrea Soloko tallied the three Adrian goals in their 3-1 win over the Yellow Jackets in the first game of the series.

The interesting fact about those three players scoring for the Bulldogs: not one of them are in the Bulldogs’ top eight in scoring. For coach Kaip it’s a positive to see that her team has the depth that they can beat a national powerhouse and not have any of their usual suspects score the goals.

Superior was able to salvage the split the next night, scoring the first three goals of the game and then holding on late to escape with a 3-2 win. Yellow Jacket senior Gina Baranzelli scored two goals to lead the offense for Superior.

The voters in the poll rewarded Adrian’s split with Superior and had the Bulldogs ranked 10th in last week’s poll. However, after an idle week this past weekend, Adrian dropped out of the rankings in favor of Wisconsin-River Falls, who was also idle.

Go figure.

We’re now a month into the season and just three teams remain unbeaten out of the 45 women’s Division III schools.

Third-ranked Wisconsin-Stevens Point leads the trio of unbeaten teams with a 5-0-0 record. They beat Gustavus Adolphus in their second game of the season 5-1 when the Gusties were ranked third in the nation. However, the Pointers next three games will show where they truly are compared to the rest of the west as they host 10th ranked Wisconsin-River Falls (2-2-0) for a crucial two game NCHA series this weekend. Then, on Dec. 7., the ninth-ranked Wisconsin-Superior Yellow Jackets (5-1-0) come to town and will try and spoil the Pointers’ undefeated season, if it’s still intact after this weekend.

Fourth-ranked R.I.T. has the best overall record of the bunch with a perfect 7-0-0 for the season. However, the Tigers haven’t entered the toughest part of their season yet. That all changes starting this weekend as R.I.T. plays host to fifth-ranked Elmira College for a big two-game ECAC West series. It doesn’t get any easier after the Eagles leave town as R.I.T. will start January with two weekend road series taking on Middlebury and Amherst the first weekend, and then traveling to Plattsburgh to face the top-ranked Cardinals in another league battle.

“We don’t have any easy games left on our schedule,” McDonald said. “We’ve proven nothing so far and we’re in for a big battle this weekend with Elmira. They are a tough and physical team and will give us an idea of where we’re at this year.”

RIT has shown no ill effects so far in losing the nation’s leading scorer last year in Danielle Nagymarosi. Instead, head coach Scott McDonald believes the team is stronger and deeper rather than just relying on one line last year to do the scoring.

“Nagymarosi had a special season last year but we’ve moved on with what we have on our team now,” McDonald said.

Two freshmen that have helped in leading that changing of the guard have been Sarah Dagg (St. George, Ont.) and Katie Stack (Batavia, N.Y.).

“Dagg has stepped up and played well for us,” McDonald said. “I didn’t expect she’d be as successful as she has so far but we certainly welcome it. Stack has been playing excellent defense and certainly has the ability to be a dominant player for us.”

Sixth-ranked Amherst is the lone team of the trio to not be perfect. Amherst is 3-0-1 with the tie coming against Trinity last weekend. While many are quick to point fingers at Amherst for tying Trinity, the Bantams have improved this year as Amherst handed them their first loss the following night by a score of 2-0.

“Trinity is a drastically improved team,” said Amherst head coach Jim Plumer. “Their goalie [Isabel Iwachiw] is excellent. They have a solid team with a lot of players that can hurt you at any time, and when one of those players is your goalie, that puts you in every game.”

The Lady Jeffs keep up the common tough opponents theme as they play host to NESCAC rivals and chief challengers for the conference crown, Middlebury and Williams this weekend. To be successful this weekend, Plumer pointed out the need for his team play their game and not worry about the names on the jerseys of the other team.

“We’re still a young team and just starting to gel together,” Plumer said. “We only have seven juniors and seniors and have eight freshmen regularly dressing every game. These games will help us get away from the pressure and expectations of being a top-ranked team and we’ll welcome Middlebury and Williams’ wide-open, fast paced style of play as we like to play that way too.”

With five games this weekend involving two ranked opponents playing each other, we’re sure to see some separation among the elite teams for the frontrunner positions in conference and national championship title races.