There is no question Kenmore is one of the hockey powers in the Western New York Girls’ Federation. It has four Section VI championships to show for its reign of dominance.
That didn’t stop coach Jeff Orlowski from noticing the reality staring him in the face. After graduating five players from last year’s state finalist team, Orlowski realized Kenmore could eventually lose the numbers game down the road and become extinct. So Kenmore did something about it. It joined forces with another school district.
Welcome the Kenmore/Grand Island combined team to the fold.
“Last year we had five seniors who graduated and this year we have another six,” Orlowski said. “We looked at the numbers coming up and we just didn’t have enough to sustain the program at a decent level. We would’ve been really short-benched to the point where we may not have had a team. … Grand Island talked about combining. … The athletic directors decided this would be a good fit. They have a young group of girls but they will sustain our future.”
These school districts aren’t the only newly merged outfits in the Federation this season. Amherst/Sweet Home formed a union with Clarence, which had eight skaters (not enough to form a full team of its own).
“With the shortage of players last season, and the fact we already had all the eighth-graders on the team, the next generation of Katz was only in sixth grade,” Amherst/Sweet Home coach Nicola Adimey said. “We knew we needed to find another school.”
These new additions join a Fed lineup that already includes merged outfits West Seneca/Hamburg, Orchard Park/Frontier, Lancaster/Iroquois and the Monsignor Martin Association team which draws from its athletic league’s seven schools.
“We’ve grown as far as the member schools but we have the same number of teams we started with,” said league chairman Rick Hopkins, who coaches Williamsville. “We haven’t gone in the other direction, which is positive.”
“It’d be nice to think down the road, teams can divide up so there are more teams in the league and schools can stand on their own, but the numbers show now the rosters are at a healthy number.”
Defending champions: Monsignor Martin regained the Federation playoff crown last season and lost only three to graduation. Returnees include third-year center Kaitlyn Drew-Mead and senior captain Maeve Christ, an extremely offensive defenseman. Senior co-captain and forward Catherine Radwan is a senior co-captain who has a good shot and plays each shift hard. Junior Brigid Keane is a wicked-fast skater.
Can the Monsignor Martin win another playoff championship?
“I’d have to say our biggest opponent is ourselves,” coach Linda Mroz said. “They’re high school girls. They’re going through things on a daily basis.”
What’s up with Kenmore? Besides the merger, it has begun life post-all-world goalie Lauren Pray. Senior CaraLynn Klopp split her first two starts, posting a shutout in the win.
Kenmore still figures to contend with a lineup that features returnees Olivia Smith, one of the top scorers last year, and sixth-year defenseman Grace Simmons. Simmons logs the tough minutes against the opponents’ top players. Forward Emily King is another sixth-year player while Taylor Story is a fourth-year player who figures to be a presence in the offensive zone.
Players from Grand Island include Abby Blair, Andrea Colan, Torrie Botticello, Rosie Boyko and LeAnn Wright.
Taking one for the team: While the merger between Amherst/Sweet Home and Clarence brought the roster up to 21 players, none of the schools had a player with goaltending experience.
Amherst senior Chloe Cottone saved the day by volunteering for the job.
“It was very brave of Chloe to volunteer to put on the goalie pads, and she has worked hard over the past five weeks to get the basics down,” Adimey said. “She has made great strides, so the priority is to support the goalie.”
There is plenty of veteran experience on the blue line as sophomores Casey Adimey, Nicole Moore and Renee Lauer and junior Courtney Cavarello all enter their fourth season.
Senior forward and captain Mc- Kenna Rushford enters her sixth year in the 6-year-old league. Forward Julia Mings enters her fifth season and has ranked in the top five in scoring the last two.
The first girls to represent Clarence in the league are Anna Ablove, Lauren Nicotra, Mackenzie Georger, Stephanie Toole, Emma Faso, sisters Karley and Jamie King and Lexi Antoniou.
It’s not time, yet: Williamsville, last year’s Section VI runner-up, is off to a 4-0 start as it has used outstanding team speed to bolt out of the gate.
“We’re off to a good start but it’s the first week of February when you really want to be at the top of your game,” said Hopkins, whose team has finished as Section VI runner-up twice the last three seasons. “The team I have is one of the deepest teams I’ve had in years. … But the league is extremely competitive.”
Players to watch include speedy junior Leah Czerwinski, Amanda Gaffney, Holly Schmelzer, Maggie Fuzak and Olivia Rutkowski.
Nichols update: The top girls program in the area is off to a 7-0 start as it embarks on the quest to extend its record streak for consecutive North American Prep Hockey Association postseason championships to five.
Just how talented is Nichols? The nation’s fifth-ranked outfit has 10 players on its roster who participated in USA Hockey National Development Camps during the offseason. Key returnees include Division I commits Rachel DePerio (Union), Michele Robillard (Mercyhurst) and Abby Welch (Penn State).
Senior Marissa Higgins didn’t go to a national camp but will continue her career at Holy Cross, while top defenseman Bridgette Prentiss is expected to announce her college decision shortly.
2014-15 All-Federation underclassmen: First team – Olivia Smith, junior forward (Kenmore/GI), Kaitlyn Drew-Mead, junior forward, (Monsignor Martin). Second team – Mc- Kenna Rushford, senior forward (Amherst/Sweet Home/Clarence), Grace Simmons, senior defenseman, (Kenmore/GI), Brianna Colucci, senior defenseman, (Lancaster/Iroquois).
Key playoff dates: Feb. 2, Section VI final, 8 p.m. Northtown Center; Feb. 5-6, New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association final four at Albany Academy; Feb. 12, WNY Federation final at 4:30 p.m. at Northtown Center; Feb. 19-21, NAPHA Championships at HarborCenter; Feb. 26-March 2, CISAA semifinals and championship series.