Short on players, big on victories

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

After a December hockey game, the entire South Dakota State women’s hockey club broke into a fight-a snowball fight.

All of the players, and their coach, started hurling snowballs at each other while other players and coaches looked at them with bewilderment in their eyes. The few women hockey players did not care and kept throwing snowballs.

Perhaps it is the team’s spirit of adventure that keeps the team having fun and winning. No matter if they have six skaters or 16, they have used a balanced attack to compile a 13-3-0-1 record to lead their division in wins.

“At our level, if you’re not having fun, you’re not going to win any games,” Assistant Coach Dallas Shearer said. “Everybody’s having fun in the locker room before the game. Everybody’s pretty loose. Everybody wants to win a hockey game, but they don’t take it so seriously to the point where it’s shoved down their throats either. The main thing is … they just all have fun together.”

Head Coach Heath Isaacson said when the team gets along, “it’ll show on the ice.”

The fun-loving Jacks have only skated eight players for much of the season. Isaacson said it usually takes at least 13 skaters to have a competitive team, so winning as many games as they have so far is “pretty amazing,” given the number of players.

While piling up wins, the team has soared to a No. 2 national ranking for Division-2 women’s teams, which puts the Jacks in prime position to make it to nationals.

“I don’t want to jinx nationals, but realistically, there is no way we shouldn’t make it,” Isaacson said. “We’ve beaten the top. We are the top.”

The Jacks beat the top team in the nation, handing No.-1 University of Minnesota Duluth their only two losses of the season. In the two victories over top-ranked Duluth, only six skaters made the trek up to Duluth, making the weekend trip the highlight of the season so far for many players.

“That’s a big highlight for us because we’ve only had around a max of eight players per game,” said Ashley Verdeck. “It proves it’s not quantity, it’s quality.”

This year’s squad is full of quality players.

“You can have seven players and really not be that good, but our seven players are really good players,” said Christy Wey.

“We’d really be in trouble if we didn’t have the talent with only eight players,” Shearer said.

“With eight players … you gotta have contributions from everybody on the team, otherwise it’s not going to get done.”

Leading the way for the Jacks is Natalie Domagala, the nation’s scoring leader.

“She’s really the star of the team. … She’s well above most other players in our league,” Isaacson said.

Domagala may lead the team in scoring, but the team is more than one person.

“I don’t want to try and emphasis one person on this team, but realistically, we have a couple of players like her (Domagala),” Isaacson said. “We (also) have two solid goaltenders.”

Brigitte Norby and Kelsey Baker split time in goal, each winning five games on the year.

Besides having talent, the coaches and players attribute a lot of their success to how well they get along.

“I think one thing that makes this team work really well together is that we have a lot of fun … and that’s something (that) kind of makes or breaks the team. And I think that’s what really makes our team work so well together,” Stephanie Mason said.

Part of the reason the team has so much fun together is because of their small numbers, which they see as an advantage.

“A lot of people think having a small team is such a disadvantage, but I think it is almost a better thing because we have so much more time to interact with each other and hear what everybody has to say,” Norby said.

“We get to hang out a lot together and get to know each other really well, and girls who have 20-plus people on their team don’t get to know each other on more of a personal level like we all get to.”

Shearer said, “Only having ten total players, there’s a lot of continuity, there’s a lot of teamwork and there’s a lot of things where they really bond, especially on road trips.”

#1.883740:198774395.jpg:sdsuvsminot03.jpg:Christy Wey finds a hole in the defense against Minot State University at Larson Ice Center.: