This week in women’s D-I: Mercyhurst rebounds from slow start, in position for postseason

Maggie Knott of Mercyhurst (Photo by Ed Mailliard, Topps) (Ed Mailliard)
Maggie Knott of Mercyhurst (Photo by Ed Mailliard, Topps) (Ed Mailliard)
The Mercyhurst Lakers have earned a bid to the NCAA tournament in 11 of the past 13 seasons. They’ve won 12 of the last 15 CHA regular season titles and 11 of the last 15 conference tournament titles. They have four Frozen Four appearances in the last nine seasons, and coach Michael Sisti is just three wins behind Havard’s Katey Stone for the title of all-time winningest NCAA Division I coach.To say that Mercyhurst is a storied program would be an understatement. It was a bit of a surprise when they lost the CHA crown to Robert Morris last season, and it was widely believed the Colonials would repeat this year as champions — they returned much of their winning roster.The Lakers played one of the toughest schedules in the country to start the season. Coach Sisti has always been one to challenge his squad and focus on testing their limits. In the first four weeks of the season, Mercyhurst played two-game series against then-No. 2 Wisconsin, then-No. 6 St. Lawrence, and then-No. 5 Colgate.It was a rough road for Mercyhurst, which started the season 2-8-2 and was just 7-11-2 by the time winter break came around. The tough start kept the Lakers off most people’s radars, but what their overall record was shielding was a 5-2-1 conference record.Since the winter break, Mercyhurst has earned themselves a 6-2-0 record and a share of the CHA lead, tied with RMU with 21 points.The final series before the break was the turning point, said sophomore Maggie Knott. The Lakers lost the opening game to then-No. 7/6 Ohio State 2-1. The Buckeyes scored with less than two minutes remaining to earn the win, but the Lakers responded the following day, coming from behind and scoring four third-period goals to beat Ohio State, 6-4.”(The win against Ohio State) showed character,” she said. “After Christmas break, we were able to find our way and start finding how to score goals and work together as a team better. And I think we’ve carried that through into our league games, and that’s why we’ve had success in our league.”She credits the early losses against top-tier teams with preparing the Mercyhurst not only for their conference matches, but for the postseason.”We know what to expect and how hard we’re going to have to work to win playoff games,” she said. “It gave us confidence. A lot of those games just came down to a couple of moments.”Though Mercyhurst had hoped for a few more wins out of their early season, senior Brooke Hartwick said the squad focused on the reputation of their program and the knowledge of what they were capable of to help propel them forward. That same mentality is driving them now.”We’re trying to win all our games to get some momentum going into playoffs,” she said. “I think the key for us is to just focus on one game and not get ahead of ourselves. Learning from the past. You can learn something from every game. We’re all on the same page. We all know how important these games are. We have so many returners that remember making the tournament. We want to get back to the final eight.”Some might struggle to live up to the specter of successful teams that had come before, but Knott said she actually loves knowing that there is an expectation to win. Being part of a storied program that has produced some of the best players in the game is something she is proud of, and she takes motivation from working to not be the one who lets that reputation falter.Hartwick said that Lakers look a bit different this season then they may have in years past, but the new look allows them to use different tactics.”We have a lot of depth,” she said. “When you got through our roster, that’s why we’re able to win a lot of games. Because we’re able to keep coming. No matter who is going on the ice, they’re ready to win battles and score goals for us.”With just a handful of regular season games left to play, including two head-to-head with Robert Morris, the focus is on the details. From special teams to puck handling, practice to games, the Lakers are working to smooth out any bumps and head to the postseason in the best possible shape.”If you’re not competing in practice, then you’re not going to be playing in the lineup,” Hartwick said.What else will the Lakers be focusing on to secure the top spot in the CHA and earn the conference auto-bid? Hartwick isn’t saying.”We’ll keep a couple of things up our sleeves.”


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