One of the odd facets of high school sports is how quickly things can change, how one successful season doesn’t necessarily guarantee the next will be just as good.
Take for instance, coach Emily Grippin’s girls hockey squad at Ithaca High School, which after losing eight players from last season’s 9-4-2 team, may or may not be successful. Forget the young team they’re fielding this year, a varsity roster packed with eighth-graders and freshmen; the team was in a similar predicament last year. Forget the fact the team graduated four seniors and lost another four starters to prep school; the team still returns its goalie and two key players on the wings.
No, the only guarantees this Little Red team has coming this winter are the ones the team makes for itself.
“This team can be good, but unlike some teams where it just comes to them, we have a lot of work for us to be successful,” former Oswego Laker and IHS alum Grippin said. “If we do that and work together as a team, we could be unstoppable, but it’s definitely not going to come naturally.”
Since starting practice Nov. 9, the team has been doing what it can to ready its inexperienced roster for the gauntlet the talented Section 3 teams offer. Lacking a sufficient local talent pool to field a team, the Ithaca squad features players from other districts. No junior varsity existing for the same reason, the team has to rely on almost immediate contributions from its youngest players.
The team’s captains, senior wings Maddie Block and Julie Miettunen organize team breakfasts and build bonds between the out-of-district players. Some members of the team were around last season, when the team bowed out early in the playoffs to Skaneateles despite a regular-season win over eventual section champ Alexandria Bay. A rematch of that game, on Nov. 20, resulted in a 4-1 loss.
“We have a young team but we saw a lot of potential that game,” Block said.
The key to the team’s season, it seems, will not just be in playing a fast, efficient game of hockey, but maintaining an attitude of positivity and promoting a positive influence on the team’s youngest members.
“When we’re being supportive of each other, there’s a real difference on the ice,” Grippin said. “When people are being negative, it brings the speed of the game down. When we’re positive and even if we’re losing, we play a lot better.”
As for the future of this year’s team, junior goalkeeper Devin Baylor probably said it best.
“We just started,” Baylor said.