Hockey team to compete for national championship

Tony Jensen

Tony Jensen

On the weekend of March 5-7, Blaine, Minn., is hosting the American Collegiate Hockey Association Women’s National Tournament, where the SDSU women’s hockey team will be competing for a championship.

SDSU was chosen as one of six teams to compete in the Division II portion of the tournament by a committee made up of coaches across the country. Despite having the best record in the Western Division (17-4-0-1), the committee awarded SDSU the third seed in Pool A. Others in Pool A include St. Scholastica and undefeated Northeastern University.

One disadvantage of being the third seed is that SDSU will have to play two games on Friday within five hours of each other, which is unheard of in hockey. What makes that challenge even more difficult is that the second game is against tourney favorite Northeastern College. Even though the team is deserving of a higher seed and is facing a tough challenge, the fact that they are the underdog has not discouraged the team members in the least.

“We are the underdog, and that is fine with us. Our goal is to win,” explained Ashley Verdeck, a senior left wing from Marshall, Minn.

Verdeck is one of four seniors on the team hoping to end the season and their careers with a championship. The other three seniors are Natalie Domagala from Luverne, Minn., and Andi Ribstein and Christa Friedrich from Brookings.

“Our goal from the beginning of the season has been to win a championship. With the new players we had coming in and players we had returning this year, we knew we had the talent to compete for a championship,” said Domagala.

Domagala would know. She is a two-time First Team All-American and led the division in points this season. Second in points was Verdeck, who was also an Honorable Mention All-American along with Emily Little (goalie) and Sarah Jensen (defense).

Coach Heath Isaacson, who lives in Iroquois, S.D., travels to Brookings twice a week for practices and games. Dallas Shearer of Sioux Falls, S.D., assists Isaacson, traveling to Brookings for practices and games as well. Both Isaacson and Shearer are graduates of SDSU and played on the SDSU men’s hockey team. Both men volunteer their time to team, which doesn’t go unnoticed by the team members.

“Their dedication to the team has really made this and other seasons meaningful,” said Ribstein.

“Andi and I have coached in the past, and it’s a lot of hard work. Coaching girls is a lot more difficult. We are all very thankful they are patient and persistent with our team,” added Friedrich.

The coaches aren’t the only ones putting their own time and money into the team. All of the players must do fundraising to pay for time just to practice. Paying for ice time is expensive, and the money that the school gives the team doesn’t even cover enough practice time for the first semester. The team raise money to pay for the rest of the expenses. They volunteer at men’s hockey games, sell shirts and help run concession stands at other SDSU athletic events. A lot of this is coordinated by Christa Friedrich.

“Fredder (Friedrich) is our lifeline for the team. She is the president of the team, and if we didn’t have her we’d be lost; there would probably be no team. She’s a big part of it,” said Verdeck.

All of this hard work has made it possible for the team that started in 2003 to grow from seven players in the first year to 14 this year. It has also given these women to continue competing in a sport that they love.

“We are all fortunate that we got the opportunity to play hockey through our collegiate career. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to play hockey for women,” said Ribstein.

Verdeck and Domagala were both recruited by private D3 schools out of high school, but when they heard that SDSU had a club team that they could compete on, they both chose to attend school here.

Domagala was glad to be part of an up and coming program.

“Coming from Minnesota where hockey is more recognized, it is nice to see a program that is being built up,” she said.

The SDSU women’s hockey team is the only collegiate women’s hockey team in the state of South Dakota, and they are excited to be able to represent South Dakota and compete so close to home. With eight athletes from South Dakota, five from Minnesota and one from Wisconsin, most of their families will be able to attend the tournament in Blaine. For the group of four seniors, they couldn’t ask for more than playing in front of their families for a chance at winning a championship.

With only a few games left in their careers, this group of four seniors has no regrets about their time spent playing hockey at SDSU.

Friedrich summed up all of their feelings.

“I am glad I came back and played my final season with Natalie, Ashley and Andi. They have been wonderful teammates over the years, and sharing this season with them is really memorable. We’re still playing hockey and it’s still fun,” she said.

The only thing left is finishing what they started at the beginning of the year and the beginning of their careers.