Low numbers, but expect high effort on the ice
MEDFORD GIRLS HOCKEY PREVIEW
BY MATT FREY
No player should experience a shortage of ice time, which will hopefully bring out the best in each member of Medford’s girls hockey team in the 2020-21 season.
With just 11 players on the roster, and one of them is still recovering from off-season surgery, each Raider will be involved in pretty much every drill and will be important to the team’s efforts on game day.
With those reps in practice and in games, co-head coaches Jenna Wieting and Scott Brandner are excited to see how much their small but enthusiastic roster can improve as the season progresses.
Wieting and Brandner enter their fourth season together on Medford’s bench. The co-head coaching titles is a change from previous years, though Wieting said the two have basically operated as co-head coaches anyway. With Wieting having given birth to her first child, a son who arrived a little sooner than expected in late November, the only thing that’s really changed is Brandner is taking on more practice responsibility early on this season.
Wieting said the team is picking things up quickly since practice officially began in mid-November.
“It’s truly a cool thing to see because I’m not there every day right now,” Wieting said. “You notice it more that they have made a lot of improvement each time I see them.”
The Raiders opened the season Monday with a 5-1 home loss to the Northern Edge Co-op, consisting of players from Rhinelander, Antigo, Lakeland, Three Lakes and Wabeno. It was a 2-1 game early in the third period before the Edge’s depth wore down the Raiders, leading to a late surge that broke the game open.
Medford hosts the Marshfield-based Wisconsin Valley Union Co-op tonight, Thursday, at 7 p.m. and the Northland Pines Co-op Tuesday at 6 p.m. before a rematch with the Northern Edge in Antigo on Dec. 17.
Like all other winter sports, attendance is going to be limited at girls hockey games to assure social distancing in the bleacher areas.
The Raiders are coming off a 2019-20 season that ended with an 8-15 record that was the program’s best since a 9-13-1 campaign in 2011-12. The biggest challenge this team will face is replacing the offense provided by the departed Emily Schafer, who demolished all of the scoring records in the program’s short 11-year history during her four years with the team.
“Emily was such a good skater and scorer that girls were used to getting her the puck and letting her carry down into the offensive zone,” Wieting said. “Then we’d regroup and work it around. She had such an ability to score, the girls got used to funneling it to her.
“This year the girls have to have the confidence that they are able to skate the puck all the way down,” Wieting added. “That’s something where someone like Eryka Seidel really does a good job. She has that confidence to carry the puck to skate it down and hold onto the puck longer.”
The Raiders meant to open the season Monday with sophomore Skylier Krueger centering the number-one of-
See RAIDERS on page 26
Medford goal tender Saige Duesing makes this glove save look easy during the Raiders' 5-1 season-opening loss to the Northern Edge Co-op Monday at the Simek Recreation Center.
DONALD WATSON/THE STAR NEWS fensive line with junior co-captain Kyla Kennedy on one wing and senior Karli Higgins on the other. Seidl, a sophomore, is pegged to center the second line with freshman Jaylin Machon and either Kylee Koontz and Saige Duesing, both sophomores, on the other wing.
Krueger, unfortunately, got pulled from pre-game warmups so the plans had to change. But, as Wieting said, everyone is going to have to be flexible this season and expect the unexpected.
Kennedy, the team’s Rib Lake representative, was the team’s second-leading scorer a year ago with 15 goals and 24 assists.
Defensively, senior Kristen Brandner and sophomore Delaney Hraby return and freshman Sophia Brunner joins the rotation. Sophomore Alyssa Brandner is recovering from off-season hip surgery and could be ready to play in a few weeks. She is already doing some non-contact work in practice and will add an important piece to the puzzle when she returns.
Not only do the Brandners and Hraby bring a defensive presence, but they found the net a few times as well last year. Hraby had four goals and the Brandners each had three. Seidl had six goals in her freshman season and Krueger had three.
Duesing takes over the starting goalie spot, something she was already in the process of doing last year when senior Alex Nicks had some injury issues. She earned three wins and stopped about 85% of the shots she faced.
“She had a good year as a freshman,” Wieting said. “She came into this year looking to be the number-one goalie. We’re giving Kylee Koontz some time there in practice. She wanted to get some experience in net, so she’ll probably see some time when Saige needs a break or whatever. But Saige is looking really good. She works really hard at it in practice. She’s really stepping up for us in that position.”
Duesing had 57 saves in Monday’s opener. Part of her success was the work of the defense, which reduced traffic in front of the net and didn’t allow the Northern Edge to get many breakaway chances.
“We want to turn everything to the outside, especially since we are short on legs,” Wieting said of the team’s defensive work. “It’s really reminiscent of a penalty kill situation. We want to keep everything outside and keep people out of the middle so Saige can see everything coming at her and let her get good looks at all the shots teams are taking.”
As the small-town team with the small roster, the Raiders know they’re going to face some stiff challenges, as always, during the season. The team has no conference affiliation for the second straight winter.
The team lost some of its bigger weekend tournaments this year due to COVID restrictions but will still face usual rivals like the Northern Edge, Northland Pines several times. Home-and-away meetings are scheduled with the Viroqua Co-op, a team the Raiders have faced often in the past. Chippewa Falls-Menomonie and the Wisconsin Valley Union will be tough challenges as will the Somerset-based Western Wisconsin Wings, who Medford faced for the first time last season.
A couple of southern trips to Brookfi eld and Baraboo remain on the schedule as well for now.
Currently, the WIAA is planning for a seven-team sectional bracket that includes the Northern Edge, Northland Pines, the two-time defending state champion Fox Cities, the always powerful Central Wisconsin Storm, the Green Bay Area Ice Bears and the Union. The WIAA has posted that state championship game is planned to be held in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday, Feb. 20. State semifi nals are set for Feb. 18 at sites to be determined. A staple of the coaching Wieting and Brandner have done in their time is to stress having fun while working hard. Wieting, the Sectional 2 Coach of the Year back in the 2018-19 season, said she could see that enjoyment coming through already in game one. “When we got out of the second period only down 2-0, you could just see the smiles everywhere,” Wieting said. “These girls have really positive attitudes. To see all the girls playing that well and enjoying it was really good to see. Knowing what they’ve been around in school this year and what they have to work around, it is really good for them to come to the rink and have fun.”