MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – After rallying during the last weekend of the regular season, the Wesleyan University women's ice hockey team earned the eighth seed in the NESCAC Tournament for the second consecutive season, as the Cardinals will face off against top-seeded and No. 4-ranked Middlebury on Saturday at 1 p.m. during quarterfinal-round action in Middlebury, Vt.
Wesleyan (6-14-4, 2-10-4 NESCAC) was in a difficult position heading into the final weekend of the regular season on Feb. 16-17, as the squad sat in the No. 9 slot with a 1-9-4 conference record (.214 winning percentage). Trinity (3-10-1) and Colby (2-10-4) sat directly ahead of the Cardinals with .250 winning percentages.
To make matters worse, Wesleyan had two games remaining on its slate, with a home-and-home series against then-No. 8-ranked Amherst. None of that fazed the Cardinals on Friday, Feb. 16, as the unit upset the Mammoths, 2-1, at the Spurrier-Snyder Rink.
Sophomore forward Allie Damren netted her first career game winner at the 5:34 mark of the second, redirecting a shot from the right point by junior defensewoman Kendall Carr. The tally was the first of the season for the Westwood, Mass. native, and it gave the hosts a 2-0 cushion.
Senior captain Alex Horton got the ball rolling with a steal in front of the Mammoths' goal, before attacking the net and burying a shot at the 9:12 mark of the first. Sophomore goalie Allegra Grant stopped 39-of-40 shots in net, as the win allowed the Cardinals to edge Trinity for the final playoff spot. Colby and Wesleyan ended with the same conference record, but the Mules earned the seventh seed as a result of their 1-0-1 record in head-to-head matchups against the Cardinals.
"We have definitely had the most success when we focus on our game by setting a fast pace, staying composed and bringing high energy and intensity to the ice," said Horton, who has four goals, three assists and a short-handed tally during the 2017-18 year. "We have learned that in this league, any team can win any game."
In the regular-season finale on Saturday, Feb. 17, the Cardinals once again battled Amherst in a highly-contested game, falling, 3-2, in Amherst, Mass., with junior forward Gina Mangiafridda, senior forward Cici Frattasio and junior assistant captain Sarah Goss all racking up two-point efforts.
Wesleyan has proved throughout the course of the season that it can compete with the best the NESCAC has to offer, edging Hamilton, 3-1, on Jan. 20 at the Spurrier-Snyder Rink, as the Cardinals put a blemish on the Continentals' 7-0-0 conference record at the time. Junior defensewoman Jackie Kilar registered a two-goal outing, as the Weare, N.H. native posted a highlight-reel goal at the 15:49 mark of the first, holding and dragging the puck through the slot, and forcing the goalie to commit, before flicking a shot into the open net, knotting the game at 1-1. She capped the game on an empty-net tally with 1:02 left in regulation, and sophomore forward Colleen Castro scored her first collegiate goal at the 17:17 mark of the second.
"I am really excited to have the opportunity to continue our season," Mangiafridda said. "Although, we were defeated by Middlebury earlier this year, we have proven on numerous occasions that we can skate with any team in the league, regardless of our history playing them. I believe that in order to be successful in this matchup, we need to come out strong and put together a solid 60 minutes of play."
Middlebury (17-4-3, 13-1-2 NESCAC) emerged victorious during the regular-season meetings against Wesleyan this season, by scores of 3-0 and 4-0 on Feb. 2 and 3, respectively, in Middlebury, Vt. The Panthers defeated the Cardinals, 4-1, during the quarterfinals of the 2017 NESCAC Tournament.
The Cardinals have a chance to make history on Saturday afternoon, as the squad is looking for its first-ever victory over the Panthers. The group is also trying to earn its first victory in the NESCAC playoffs, and has qualified for the conference tournament six times. The Panthers are the two-time defending NESCAC champions, and have won nine conference crowns overall, dating back to the 2000-01 season. Middlebury also won three straight NCAA Division III titles from 2004-06.
AT A GLANCE: EIGHTH-SEEDED WESLEYAN
- Mangiafridda, who hails from Pelham, N.Y., has been a dynamic player in the offensive zone all season for Wesleyan, has compiled team highs of six goals and 12 points, while also collecting six assists.
- Sophomore forward Alexis Banquer (four goals, seven assists), Goss (team-high nine assists), Frattasio (three goals, six assists) and Kilar (two goals, six assists) have been focal points of the Cardinals' offense.
- Grant has maintained a .945 save percentage, which is the third-best mark in the entire NESCAC. The Winnetka, Ill. native has registered 40 or more saves seven times. She rattled off a career-high 53 stops during a 2-2 draw against Williams on Dec. 2, and then posted 47 during a 1-1 tie against then-No. 8-ranked Connecticut College on Jan. 13.
- Sophomore goalie Sam Smith was exceptional during Wesleyan's win over Hamilton, finishing with a season-high 41 saves.
- The Cardinals have been led this year by 10th-year head coach Jodi McKenna, and assistant coaches Keira Goin and Sydney Rossman.
AT A GLANCE: FIRST-SEEDED MIDDLEBURY
- Senior forward Jessica Young has been a force, reeling off regular-season totals of 15 goals, 15 assists and 30 points, as she leads the Panthers in points and goals, and ranks second and third, respectively, within the NESCAC. The Mission Hills, Kan. native also leads the conference in power-play points (18) and goals (eight).
- Senior forward Maddie Winslow (nine goals, 15 assists) and freshman forward Madie Leidt (13 goals, nine assists) have also been consistent threats.
- Junior defensewoman Jenna Marotta leads the NESCAC in scoring by a defensewomen (20 points) and is tied for second in assists (18) among all players in the conference.
- Sophomore goalie Lin Han (8-3-2) has seen the bulk of the work in net for Middlebury, maintaining a .938 save percentage and a 1.44 goals-against average, to go along with five shutouts.
- The Panthers are led by 30th-year head coach Bill Mandigo, who is a 1983 graduate of Wesleyan, and assistant coach Brooke Fernandez.