FOND DU LAC, Wis. (SabreAthletics.com) – The Marian University women's hockey team is scheduled to drop the puck for its fourth season in program history this afternoon, Oct. 27. Expectations and optimism are as high as they have ever been since the arrival of first-year Head Coach Jamie Kivi.
"I'm excited to be a part of this program and help build it into a national competitor," Kivi said. "I fully expect us to compete in every game and I look forward to building something special and seeing every girl in our locker room taking pride in wearing the Marian jersey for many years to come."
Kivi is a native of Green Bay who spent four years and made three Frozen Four appearances with NCAA Division III Elmira. The past two seasons she has spent at St. Norbert College as an assistant coach, helping build a brand new women's program there.
Now at Marian, she inherits a veteran group of 12 returning letterwinners, led by senior captains Katie Lindsley and Rachel Mullendore, who represent two-of-five Marian players that have been with the program from the start in 2009. Kivi believes she has the right group of players to turn things around quickly, but it entails numerous factors.
"The girls in the locker room are committed to making this a better program," Kivi said. "They don't just treat each other as teammates, but rather, as family.
"I want to set the bar high and bring out the best in everyone by giving the girls the necessary tools to get there," Kivi added.
Marian returns 85 percent of its goal scoring from a season ago. Sophomore Amanda Waigand led the team with 13 goals and 18 points as a freshman in 2011-12.
"I want her to pick up where she left off," Kivi said. "She's a very talented and gifted player who makes her teammates better and leads by example. I'm hoping that others can step up and contribute around her."
Others include senior Megan Sesing-Gomoll, described as a very powerful player who finished fifth on the team in points last season, as well as sophomore Kristin Skubic and seniors Devan Lesch and Lindsley, who will provide consistency and depth at the forward position.
Defensively, Mullendore is poised to lead a very determined group, one that allowed 91 goals a season ago and hopes to cut that number down dramatically.
"She's a founding member of this team and plays with a lot of heart," Kivi said of her senior captain. "I look for her to have a very strong senior season."
In goal, the Sabres return the fourth-best goalie in the country in terms of saves as she denied 668 shots from opponents in 2011-12. She ranked in the top-27 in save percentage (.920) as well. Ali Glazer comes in as a freshman who will surely add some much-needed depth between the pipes.
The goal for the Marian women's hockey team is simple, according to Coach Kivi.
"The goal is to get better every day and take advantage of the opportunities presented to us," Kivi said.
In 2011-12, Marian had 14 games decided by two goals or less. Two ended in ties, while the rest were losses. Most of those games occurred in the highly-competitive Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, which shows a lot of parity from top to bottom this year, as it did last year.
"We have a good road test at the start, but with the NCHA being such a balanced conference, any team can win on any given night," Kivi said.
The Sabres start the season with their first five games on the road, beginning with St. Benedict, Saturday, Oct. 27. Another non-conference road test against Augsburg follows before Marian heads to Finlandia for a pair to open the conference slate.
Marian will host its home opener against St. Norbert, Kivi's former team, on Nov. 17.
"It will be fun (to face them)," Kivi said. "I'm looking forward to it, but we'll prepare for it like any other game. It's certainly not a focus as we have to look at the season one game at a time."
Beyond that, the Sabres will host 10 more home games, including eight NCHA tilts. NCHA favorite, UW-River Falls, invades the Blue Line Family Ice Center, Feb. 1-2. Soon thereafter, Adrian comes to town for the home finale, Feb. 8-9. The lone non-conference home opponent will be Hamline, which visits Fond du Lac, Dec. 14-15.
"It's an exciting schedule," Kivi said. "We played a lot of close games last year and if we can get over the hump by focusing on giving 60 minutes of effort every night, and with the experience and talent on our roster, we can compete with anybody."
Marian heads to Collegeville, Minn. today for the season opener against St. Benedict. Game time is slated for 2 p.m.