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MEDFORD GIRLS HOCKEY PREVIEW - Raiders not as deep, but bring a lot of experience into new season

Raiders not as deep, but bring a lot of experience into new season
Emily Kiselicka (1) pictured fighting for the puck during a Feb. 3 game with Hayward is one of 12 returning letter winners on this year’s Medford girls hockey team. MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS
Raiders not as deep, but bring a lot of experience into new season
Emily Kiselicka (1) pictured fighting for the puck during a Feb. 3 game with Hayward is one of 12 returning letter winners on this year’s Medford girls hockey team. MATT FREY/THE STAR NEWS


Medford’s girls hockey team won’t be quite as deep this season as it was last winter with 15 total players and just one returning senior on its roster.

But the majority of that roster is filled by juniors and sophomores who are now well-accustomed to varsity hockey and played several years of youth hockey before that. And it’s a team that gave Medford’s program a noticeable jolt last year and aims to continue that progress in the 2023-24 season.

Overseeing that progress is the new coaching duo of Tasha Schmidtfranz and her volunteer assistant Chad Schmidtfranz, who take over after Scott Brandner’s resignation last spring. Brandner was the sole head coach last year after sharing the role with Jenna Wieting the previous two seasons.

Tasha Schmidtfranz has been an assistant coach with the Raiders the past two seasons. It won’t be easy with a work schedule that takes her to Minnesota for stretches at a time, but when the program had no other options she took on the challenge while getting help from Chad, a former player in Medford’s boys program who also was an assistant coach for the boys at one time.

“It is going to be a bit intense, but the girls have responded well so far, so we can’t really complain,” Tasha Schmidtfranz said Monday. “The start of prac-tices went really well. The girls have been responding to new drills very well, they’re working on a lot of conditioning and doing edge work. We’re just really focusing on our basics which we hope will carry us over into games. They’ve all been doing really good, practicing five days a week, working out in the gym and doing workouts three days a week.”

The Raiders dropped the puck on their new season Tuesday with their opening game at the Marshfield-based Wisconsin Valley Union co-op. The game took place after this week’s early holiday deadline for The Star News. The Raiders travel to face the Hayward Co-op this coming Tuesday before their Nov. 30 5 p.m. home opener against the Central Wisconsin Storm.

In between, Medford will also compete over the holiday weekend in the Storm’s JV tournament in Mosinee, which features the University School of Milwaukee and the Eau Claire Area Stars.

In Marshfield, Medford hoped to repeat its season-opening success from last November when the Raiders beat the Union for the first time 5-1. It was the start of an improved season where Medford also beat the Northland Pines Coop for the first time, beating the Eagles twice, 3-2 and 3-1.

Medford wound up 4-12 overall. Jaylin Machon is this year’s returning senior. A three-year letter winner in the sport, Machon starts the season on Medford’s top forward line along with juniors Emily Kiselicka and Grace Schmidtfranz. Machon scored three goals for Medford last winter, while Schmidtfranz scored twice and Kiselicka had four assists. Kiselicka had four goals as a freshman.

Junior Megan Schaefer and sophomores Ava Hartl and Rivalee Stokes start the season on Medford’s second line and sophomore Makenna Wellman figures to mix in there as well. Wellman could lead a third line that includes freshmen Chloe Pipkorn and Lilyana Kujawa, Kujawa is a first-year hockey player.

“I’m definitely hopeful, even though our numbers are down from last year, that we can really pull together and continue to move in the right direction,” Tasha Schmidtfranz said. “I do definitely think they’re getting better and are already vastly improving in their skating abilities and getting the puck moved down the ice.”

Scoring is one area Medford didn’t quite get the production it was hoping for last year. The Raiders scored 25 goals for an average of 1.6 per game in 16 contests, down from 2.2 goals per game the previous year. Medford, though, played a little tougher schedule last season than the prior year.

Coach Schmidtfranz believes her team’s main strength will be defense.

The Raiders lowered opponents’ goals per game from 6.8 in 2021-22 to 4.8 last year and, again, that came against a pretty loaded schedule. Part of that was due to the play of goalie Ilsa Brunner, who is no longer with the program. But the four players who will rotate at defensive positions also played a key part in that too. Juniors Kelli Petrick and Tori Konieczny will pair up in one line to start the year, while junior Carly Koski and sophomore Kara Kennedy are the team’s second defensive duo.

“I think we have a very good defense,” Tasha Schmidtfranz said.

Medford held three opponents to one goal last year, winning all three of those games against the Union, Pines and the Beaver Dam Coop. The Raiders held the Storm to five, the lowest total the Storm has ever gotten against the Raiders.

Medford has one more skater, foreign exchange student Luana Silveira, who is just learning the game, and the Raiders hope to get her some ice time as the season progresses.

The last piece of this year’s roster puzzle is sophomore Zayleah Leonhardt, who will take over as Medford’s full-time goalie. She got some valuable JV minutes to start last year and then, after skating with the varsity all season –– scoring two goals and dishing out six assists –– she was between the pipes for Medford’s last regular-season game, picking up 37 saves in a 6-0 loss to a good Hayward team that eventually ended Medford’s season 11-0 in their next meeting in the first round of the WIAA tournament.

“She’s a very good athlete,” Schmidtfranz said of Leonhardt.

This year’s schedule features many familiar opponents, one of which has a different look. The Northern Edge Co-op, centered around Rhinelander and Lakeland has now merged with Northland Pines, who heads a Northwoods conglomerate co-op that is represented by 10 schools, including three from Michigan.

The Black River Falls Co-op, the Chippewa Falls-Menomonie Co-op and the Beaver Dam Co-op are among those familiar opponents Medford sees yearly. The Eau Claire Area Stars are on the schedule for the second straight year and state runner-up Superior-Northwestern will be at the Simek Recreation Center on Jan. 13. At the time last year, Brandner said Medford played one of its best games of the season against the Spartans in an 8-0 loss.

The Raiders will host the Stoughton Icebergs hockey co-op, a team Medford hasn’t played since the 2018-19 season, on Dec. 29. They’ll renew their friendly rivalry with Houghton-Hancock, Mich.’s U19 team with a doubleheader in Copper Country on Saturday, Dec. 9.

Medford will take a weekend trip to the state’s southeast corner to face the Hartland Arrowhead co-op and the Brookfield Glacier co-op on Jan. 26-27.

“I think the team has really come together,” Schmidtfranz said. “They’re bonding very well as a team, getting along very well. Our hopes are to have an at or over .500 season. That’s my goal. I think we’re doing a lot of great things. We’re just really working on the fundamentals and trying to bring those forward and use those throughout the games.”