By Matthew Rocco
Girls’ ice hockey remains a fledgling sport in New Jersey, but Mater Dei Prep is finding success after just three seasons on the ice.
The Seraphs compete in the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic (WIHLMA) with 10 other schools, including Immaculate Heart Academy, Princeton High School and Princeton Country Day School. Competition is scarce, ice time is hard to come by and recruiting students is a tall order. Despite those challenges, Mater Dei’s program is going strong.
The eight-player team made it all the way to the WIHLMA championship game and finished the 2016-17 season with a 6-2 division record.
Mater Dei also has a couple of girls interested in playing ice hockey next season to replace the two seniors that will graduate in the spring. Over its first three seasons, Mater Dei’s program has placed three players with NCAA ice hockey teams.
“Mater Dei has done a great job committing to a girls’ program since we started three years ago,” head coach Oktay Armagan said. “The challenge is there’s not a lot of girls’ hockey in the area. You have to travel quite a bit. Some girls in the area play on boys’ hockey teams. So it’s growing, but it’s going to take some time.”
The Seraphs had an impressive campaign this winter. Not only did they reach the finals — where they fell, 4-0, to undefeated Rye Country Day School — but Mater Dei managed to do it all with a limited roster.
Senior Mia Beuthe and Brianna Felice led the entire league in points, amassing 25 points apiece. Beuthe had a team-high 18 goals, and Felice found the net 12 times.
Lucia Pettersen was third on the team with 18 points on the season. Lexie Tedeschi had 14 points, including nine goals.
The Seraphs also got big contributions from Sarah Gallagher, Melissa Kelly and Mackenzie Matarese.
Goalie Elizabeth Hill, a senior, made 95 saves and posted a save percentage of .856.
Mater Dei finished second in WIHLMA’s Miran division. The league, which stretches from Pennsylvania to New York down to Maryland, is broken into two divisions: Miran and Hengerer.
The team’s accomplishments with a small roster were only possible because of each player’s commitment to the sport, Armagan said.
“We’re the only girls’ high school team in the Monmouth and Ocean area. We’re doing our best to expand the program. It’s very challenging having a seven-player roster, plus a goalie. These girls worked very hard, and they accomplished a lot,” he said. “These girls are committed. Their work ethic is great. You can’t accomplish what we did as an individual. You have to play as a team.”
Armagan added that the team’s accomplishments weren’t limited to game action. The average GPA on the team was 3.4.
“A lot of the parents have said to me that they were so impressed with their daughters, how much they’ve matured,” Armagan said. “Our team chant was the word ‘grind.’ They really learned how to grind it out as a unit. They can take that aspect and apply it to their everyday life.”
Their daily schedule was an exercise in commitment. Mater Dei could only get ice time during the day, so the team practiced during the students’ gym period. Players would go to school for roughly two hours, get to the rink for practice and then return to Mater Dei to finish the school day.
The Seraphs expect more good things to come next season, and they hope their success inspires more girls to take up ice hockey.
Just this season, three more New Jersey schools added girls’ ice hockey to their athletic programs.
Mater Dei’s potential closing two years ago threatened to end the Seraphs’ hockey program soon after it began. The news also set the team back in its efforts to bring more players into the sport. Since then, the Seraphs have bounced back.
“The school is doing a great job supporting the program,” Armagan said.