If you pick a random player off the ice in Greenberg Ice Pavilion at a women’s hockey practice, you have about a 63 percent chance of selecting a freshman.
The Nittany Lions are in their first season of Division I competition, and their first freshmen recruiting class makes up 17 of 27 players on the roster.
Junior Jenna Welch said the freshmen bring energy to the Lions, and she does not consider them freshmen anymore because of the job they have done thus far in the short season.
“At this point, I don’t really even think about it when I’m on the ice,” said Welch, one of the team’s assistant captains. “They’re all doing great, working hard. This weekend, they stepped up a lot, so it doesn’t even seem like it.”
Head coach Josh Brandwene said before the Nittany Lions’ first game that the freshman class would contribute in every way, shape or form. He was not joking, as freshmen players scored all six of the team’s goals this past weekend in Vermont.
Assistant coach Casey McCullion said more importantly than scoring goals, the freshmen took care of their defensive responsibilities, and that is what led them to be successful in the offensive zone.
McCullion also said the freshmen bring a selfless attitude that ages them past their class standing.
“They are so focused on team first,” McCullion said. “Even the kids who did score, all they wanted to talk about after the game was the win. I think that shows a sign of maturity that we’re really fortunate that we have from our kids.”
McCullion said the biggest challenge was getting the freshmen used to playing with one another, but they are a close group, and it is “easy” because they want to learn.
Brandwene said the notion of being a pioneer for the program sung to the players, and freshman forward Shannon Yoxheimer agreed.
“You can go to any college and play D-I, but here it’s like you’re starting something completely new,” Yoxheimer said. “You can be the one to say, ‘I was the first, and I built this.’”
Freshman forward Birdie Shaw said this opportunity does not happen everywhere, and she described it as a once in a lifetime experience.
McCullion said it is a unique opportunity that the freshmen are embracing because they get to mold what the program will become.
“A lot of freshmen on teams, they step in, and they’re part of somebody else’s traditions,” McCullion said. “Our kids get to decide what their traditions are going to be. When something’s really important to them, that becomes important to the team.”
The freshmen’s contributions have already gained them recognition during the team’s first season in the College Hockey America conference.
Yoxheimer scored twice, including the historic first goal in the inaugural game and win against the Catamounts, which earned her a spot on the CHA Honor Roll. Forward Micayla Catanzariti also notched two goals and was named CHA Rookie of the Week.
Catanzariti said the whole team bought into the system, and she just happened to be in the right place to score the goals. Catanzariti’s award adds to her collection as a young player. She already owns two bronze medals from the USA National Championships in 2009 and 2010.
Yoxheimer said she has high aspirations for the Lions to reach by the time the inaugural freshman class’ senior year comes to an end.
“I hope we win a title,” Yoxheimer said. “I think we could do it, especially after this weekend, and each year we’re just going to keep getting better.”
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