Women’s D-III: Endicott looking to return to NCAA tournament

Jade Meier of Endicott (David Le Endicott Athletics/Endicott Athletics)
Jade Meier of Endicott (David Le Endicott Athletics/Endicott Athletics)

The month of January has seen the Endicott Gulls reel off seven wins in eight games and move into the USCHO.com poll. Currently sporting a 17-2 record after sweeping Salve Regina in a home-and-home series last weekend, the Gulls are looking to finish the regular season and return to the NCAA tournament, which they can do by winning the Colonial Hockey tournament.

“It’s been a long break for us where classes actually just started on Monday,” said Gulls coach Andy McPhee. “So, we’ve been back where it’s been really no distractions. We’ve been doing a lot of community service and playing some hockey. It’s always a nice time of year for the student-athletes, and then to start back up with some nonconference games rolling into conference games has been a pretty good start of 2020. I think overall we played pretty well. I guess the team has a great mentality where no matter what the score is or whether we’re up or down or what period it is, we just always have a will to play hard.”

Though only in their fifth year as an NCAA program, the Gulls have built a winning tradition. Last year, the Gulls finally overcame conference rival Morrisville in the Colonial Hockey tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time. In the NCAA tournament, the Gulls gave eventual national champion Plattsburgh all it could handle before falling in overtime.

“It’s been the track record of the program, of what these seniors and juniors have experienced, where they were knocking on the door their previous two years of making it to the championship,” said McPhee. “We lost unfortunately to Morrisville, but they were great games. All those little experiences throughout a college career help out for the given moments. I think going up to Plattsburg, that experience definitely, definitely helps. That’s such a great team. I think playing the teams that we play nonconference helps, and then I think our conference starting off just not too long ago, a lot of change came to D-III women’s hockey. I think playing everybody a home-and-home back-to-back is tough. I think that experience has helped as well.”

The Gulls owe at least some of their current success to the women who were recruited at the end of Endicott’s first season of college play. Those players are seniors now and leading the team in a variety of ways, both on the score sheet and in the locker room.

“When we started this program five years ago, we were trying to recruit character kids that were leaders within their different teams, whether they come from club hockey, high school hockey, or prep school, because we were just starting out,” said McPhee. “This senior class is the second class that was ever recruited for Endicott hockey, and they just all hold a lot of great characteristics that have helped us have success, whether it’s settling the nerves of the younger kids or rising to the occasion in the big games with their performance and just representing and doing really well in the classroom. You start in our back end with Alyssa (Peterson) in goal, and then we have Nicole Demers and Maddy Huber on defense, and then we have four senior forwards and they all have different roles that are really contributing. We’re lucky that they chose Endicott and that they’re helping steer the ship.”

Three of those senior forwards that McPhee represents lead the team in scoring, averaging over a point a game, and play on the team’s top line. Jade Meier leads the team in scoring with 26 points, averaging 1.37 points per game, a great increase from the 0.50 points she averaged in her junior season.

“I think with all of them, all the seniors, they bring a lot to the table,” said McPhee. “I think Jade was a little snakebit last year. She had a lot of chances and it just wasn’t falling for her. The players she’s given it to, the puck’s going in the net. She’s pretty much been linemates with Jillian Gibbs for all four years, and they have a great combination, and then we have Michaela McNamara centering both of them. I think they’re just racking up the points. I think Jade has been great for all four years, it’s just now the results are consistent with the points.”

Another senior who has stepped up is goaltender Alyssa Peterson. This season is the first where Peterson has been the starter, as for her first three years she was backing up Vendela Jonsson, who racked up numerous awards in her four years at the school, including being a  2018-19 New England Hockey Writers’ Association All-Region Team selection. Peterson has stepped in with no drop in form and currently has a 1.41 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.

“Alyssa’s always been a really good goalie for us,” states McPhee. “It just so happened that in front of her was also a good goalie with Vendela Jonsson, who graduated last year. When Alyssa got her opportunity in spot starts at different points for the previous three years, she always did a great job. I just think she has a calm demeanor. Again, it goes back to character. She’s just a great teammate. She helps bring along those first years, helping them in practice within the different small games or drills that we do, and it’s a good camaraderie that the goalies have. That’s sometimes tough; you have one net, you have one goalie playing a game, and sometimes that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it just goes to that selfless attitude that they all have for each other.”

The Gulls are off this weekend, but resume league play with a home-and-home series against Becker the following weekend. Endicott has six games left in the regular season before they start play in the Colonial Hockey tournament, with a potential return to the NCAA tournament on the line.

“I think we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing and just going day by day trying to get a little bit better every time we have a chance to practice or with our strength conditioning coaches and not lose focus with all the distractions that can happen with the stresses of the schoolwork, because that’s the main priority, doing well in school,” explains McPhee. “That’s what we care most about. We’re just lucky that we get to wear the Endicott jerseys and represent our school. We’re just trying to take it game by game and see how it is. That’s been our approach, and it’s kind of hard to believe there’s only six games left.”