Nick McAdam, Assist. Sports Editor
Making the playoffs has become routine for the Utica College women’s hockey team.
With their 5-2 victory over Stevenson University on Jan. 26, the Pioneers qualified for the playoffs for the 17th time in the program’s 18-year history.
Scoring in Utica’s recent victory was spread around as players such as junior Rebecca Brown, senior Kayla Dion and freshman Georgiana Santullo all finished with goals. For Santullo, the sports management major walked away with the UCHC Rookie of the Week Honor.
Despite the recent accomplishment for the Pioneers, there are still six games to be played. The remaining matchups include splits with William Smith College, Elmira College and Wilkes University. The Pioneers lost their first game since qualifying for the playoffs against Nazareth by a score of 3-1.
According to junior goalie Bria Reilly, who made 21 saves against Stevenson, focus still has to be put on the six remaining games before thinking about opponents in the playoffs.
“We need to stay mentally focused and keep sight of what our goal is that we set way back in last spring, which is to win our conference championship,” she said. “It is going to be crucial for us to keep ourselves healthy, keep up on our schoolwork and keep ourselves mentally focused every day we step onto the ice leading up to playoffs.”
At this point in the season, Reilly is posting a .930 save percentage with a 1.43 goals-against average. She has accounted for 11 of the Pioneers 14 total wins, which is tied for seventh-most in the country at the moment.
Reilly also mentioned the daunting task of knocking off their next few opponents. According to USCHO, Elmira is the top-ranked team in Division III hockey, while Nazareth earned an honorable mention to the top ten in the league’s voted poll.
Goals of winning the conference will be decided within the next five games, two of which are against top-seeded Elmira and one against Nazareth. In the UCHC standings, both teams are tied with the Pioneers at 22 points.
Others on the Pioneers team, such as assistant coach Jackie Solomito, remain confident in the team’s ability to finish the regular season strong and head into the playoffs on a high note.
“We have a very talented and passionate team with a strong core of senior leadership,” Solomito said. “We expect that the team as a whole shows for every practice mentally and physically ready to sweat and get better. We have some big, strong kids with heavy sticks and some smaller kids with a ton of speed and skill.”
Utica currently has seven seniors on the team, a majority of which play on the defensive side of the puck. The group has accounted for 15 of the team’s 71 total goals in the 2018-19 season and over 15 assists. Stats show that 56 of the Pioneers goals come from juniors, sophomores and freshmen.
The suggested balance in the team’s scoring, according to Solomito, comes from point attribution and off-the-ice mentality. Solomito attributed practice and a winning mentality as the driving points of winning key games.
“If we can show up to every game and put in the effort physically to battle and mentally to stick to our strategies, I think we will be unstoppable,” Solomito said.