WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — There's a buzz around the Williams College women's hockey team this fall, a feeling of genuine excitement and enthusiasm for the 2013-14 season that comes with the growth the Ephs experienced last season under third-year coach Megan Gillis.
Still, Gillis doesn't have her Ephs focusing on any end-of-year goal, but more on the journey of working hard to improve.
"You can have a goal for the end of the season, but you have to focus on the process, the journey, and balance your life on and off the ice," Gillis said. "We're going to ask you give us everything you have when you step onto the ice for a practice or game, then go work hard on your other student-athlete endeavors away from the rink."
Williams finished 9-15-1 last season, but graduated only two players of its roster. The top two scorers, senior captains Gabrielle Vukasin and Cristina Bravi, are both back after combining for 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) one year ago. Gillis also has back starting goalie Chloe Billadeau, who played 986 minutes last year and compiled a .902 save percentage.
Williams has most of its offensive firepower returning, starting with sophomore Michaela Levine, who netted 6 goals in just 18 games and continuing with junior Andree Heller (5 goals, 4 assists) and junior assistant captain Nitsan Goldstein (3 goals, 6 assists). Junior Gwendolyn Schultz is also expected to continue logging big minutes at forward.
But Gillis knows, even with those returners, there is still much work to be done.
"I think we have to possess the puck more, move it quicker and make better decisions with it," she said. "We also have to battle hard for every puck on every play."
Defensively, the Ephs return four stalwarts from a year ago in junior Caitlin Conlon and sophomores Abby Belcrest, Hadley DesMueles and Talia Simon. Joining them will be first-years Ashley Arnold and Hanna Beattie.
Gillis wants her defense to compete at both ends of the ice. "We want the D jumping in the rush, being part of our offense, and we now have a little more depth at the position to do that." she said.
Other members of the first-year class expected to boost the Ephs' chances include forwards Emily Krueger and Chelsey Stevenson. In addition to Beattie, Arnold, Krueger and Stevenson, is goaltender Margaret Draper, and forwards Sara Lehman and Caitlin Buckley.
"Having graduated only two and considering we have seven first years coming in, everyone is competing daily to make us better," Gillis said. "It allows us to have some solid depth, which we've been missing."
The Ephs open their season this Friday at 7pm and Saturday at 3pm at Lansing Chapman Rink with back-to-back home games against Little 3 rival Wesleyan. It's just the beginning of what will be a very challenging schedule, especially in the NESCAC.
"It's challenging, yet enjoyable to play in the best conference in Div. III," Gillis said. "We saw a lot of close games last year, including a 1-1 tie against eventual NESCAC champion (Bowdoin), so I hope this year we work hard to put ourselves in a position to compete in the NESCAC.