Josie Bothun Courtesy Art

Penn State goaltender Josie Bothun (30) during warm ups against Mercyhurst on Jan. 24, 2021. No. 9 Penn State defeated Mercyhurst 4-1. Photo/Craig Houtz

The CHA’s five programs will struggle with one another to reach the pinnacle of the conference this winter.

After Syracuse secured the CHA title handily last season, it’ll be the job of the other four to unseat the Orange.

Here’s a look around the conference ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.

Penn State

Penn State coach Jeff Kampersal has taken the program to new heights in the last few seasons.

Penn State followed up a regular-season title with a second-place finish in 2021-22.

Last season, Natalie Heising led the Nittany Lions in scoring with 20 goals and 40 points. In her five seasons with Penn State, Heising scored 74 goals and 137 points in 156 career games.

Heising has since moved on, and the loss of Penn State’s leading scorer will certainly prove a difficult challenge to overcome. The Nittany Lions will need to find a way to replace that level of production, if possible.

Right behind Heising on the stat sheet was her teammate Kiara Zanon. Zanon, who is entering her junior season, scored 13 goals and a total of 39 points last season, earning her second consecutive All-CHA first-team honors.

In net for the Nittany Lions, Josie Bothun will be a focal point of Penn State’s success this upcoming season. Bothun was the blue and white’s first CHA Goaltender of the Year winner back in 2020-21.

The Minnesotan netminder already holds Penn State’s records for both wins and shutouts, with 34 and 13, respectively. Penn State will need the continued excellence of Bothun’s play to get back to the mountaintop in 2022-23.

Women's Hockey, Union, head coach Jeff Kampersal

Head coach Jeff Kampersal talks to his players during the game against Union College at Pegula Ice Arena on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Penn State tied Union College 1-1.

Syracuse

Fresh off of a CHA regular-season and tournament title, the Orange are looking to do more than just repeat as conference champions.

After an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Quinnipiac in the NCAA Tournament, Syracuse will look to build on last season and find some NCAA postseason success.

Syracuse’s leading scorer was Abby Moloughney, who scored 17 goals and 32 points in 32 games for the Orange.

Moloughney, who scored 105 points in her time in the orange and white, is not listed on the team’s roster for 2022-23. This is a key loss for the Orange that will create a noticeable offensive hole for them to fill next year.

Of Syracuse’s 2022-23 roster, one third of the players are freshmen, which means that there will be a lot of new faces that haven’t played together in a live contest yet.

With all of these inexperienced players, Syracuse will likely face the growing pains that young teams often do.

Mercyhurst

Finishing third in the CHA standings last year, Mercyhurst will have its work cut out for it before it can overtake either Penn State or Syracuse.

Despite scoring more goals than any other team in the conference, the Lakers couldn’t seem to hang with their top pair of conference rivals.

This is due in part to them falling just short in their key matchups against Penn State, Syracuse and even Lindenwood.

Dropping these points doomed the Lakers’ chances of pushing for the CHA title last year.

Both of the squad’s top scorers, Vanessa Upson and Sara Boucher, were underclassmen last season. Upson finished with 39 points while Boucher finished with just one less.

After finishing as runners-up in the CHA Tournament title game and third in the regular-season standings, Mercyhurst will look to capture its first regular-season CHA title since 2019-20.

Penn State Women's Ice Hockey vs. Syracuse Zanon Passing

Forward Kiara Zanon (11) searches for a teammate to pass the puck too during the Penn State women's ice hockey game vs. Syracuse on Friday, Feb. 4, 2021 at the Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, Pa. The game finished in 1-1 tie in overtime with Penn State's goal from forward Alyssa Machado (3).

RIT

After finishing in last place in both of the last two CHA seasons, RIT is a longshot to compete for the conference title.

Over those campaigns, RIT has only managed to win three games, bringing its collective record in that span down to an abysmal 3-42-4.

The Tigers were led offensively by Emma Roland, who put up nine goals and 18 points in 2021-22. She was one of only six players to reach double-digit points for RIT.

Abby Davies was also a solid goalscorer for the Tigers with 11 tallied goals during the year.

The Tigers’ backup netminder Taylor Liotta played well in the same sample size that she saw last year. Despite 3.57 goals per game last year, Liotta posted a .916 save percentage in 16 games played, nine of which were starts.

While taking the conference title seems like a long shot for the program, RIT has a shot to overtake Lindenwood in the standings for the first time since 2019-20.

Lindenwood

Lindenwood, similar to RIT, hasn’t finished above the bottom two teams in the CHA since 2014-15 — back when the conference still had Quinnipiac and Robert Morris.

Lindenwood won six total games in 2021-22 and finished 11 points below third-place Mercyhurst in the conference standings.

The top two scorers for the Lions last season were both seniors. Sierra Burt netted 23 points, and Casey Adimey scored 17 points for the unit.

Despite the solid contributions of both seniors, the Lions failed to win on a consistent basis. This is due in part to no goaltender posting above a .900 save percentage.

To avoid being surpassed by RIT, Lindenwood needs improved goaltending and maintained goal-scoring from last season.

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