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GIRLS HOCKEY: Youth and experience dominate the KnightRiders’ roster

While Peyton LeNoir is only a sophomore, she isn’t worried about state tournament jitters.

For LeNoir, it is been there, done that. The Grand Forks KnightRider forward will be making her third straight appearance in the North Dakota girls high school hockey tournament, which begins Thursday in Grand Forks.

“I’ve played for three years,” LeNoir said. “Most of us sophomores have.

“I feel like I’m more of an experienced player. All of us do. It doesn’t bother us playing against older people. We’re used to it.”

Youth dominates the KnightRiders’ roster. So does experience. With only three seniors and three juniors on his roster, Grand Forks coach Darin Schumacher has had to rely heavily on its sophomore class.

LeNoir and classmates Allison Mulroy, Bailee Enlow and Liz Kratochvil were on the varsity as eighth-graders. Another sophomore, Tori Christian, joined the varsity last season.

LeNoir (17-14—31) and Christian (13-15—28) are the top two scorers on the 12-11-0 KnightRiders team, followed by seniors Brooke Berry (10-13—23) and Lexi O’Halloran (15-8—23). Then comes Mulroy (6-8—14), Enlow (7-6—13) and another youngster, freshman Katie Rodningen (8-3—11).

Youth continues on the defensive unit where Kratochvil, juniors Mackenzie Olson and Myranda Podell and freshman Gabbie Nuelle are regulars in front of junior goalie Jerrica Rosendahl. The only other senior is third-liner Tina Shafer.

“We’ve put a lot of responsibility on younger kids, and they’ve done a good job,” Schumacher said. “Quite a few of these young kids would be playing even if we had a lot of upperclassmen.

“The young girls don’t play like they’re young. They understand the game.”

Seniors traditionally have been hard to find on the KnightRiders’ roster. Grand Forks goes to state with only three seniors for the second straight season. Schumacher estimates that three or four seniors have been more the norm than the exception through the years.

“Girls just sort of weed themselves out of the program,” Schumacher said. “Our numbers are low. You work with what you have.

“We’ve had our ups and downs this year. But, as a whole, the season has gone well. The girls are working together. They’re talking hockey on the bench, talking strategy, which we didn’t always see early in the year. And the girls did a lot of strength training, so we’ve matched up physically better than some years in the past.”

And the young players have shouldered more responsibility.

Last season, then-seniors Ashley Becker and Nicole Novak dominated the offense. They combined to score 46 of the team’s 145 goals.

“That was a lot of points,” LeNoir said. “There was a little more pressure on us this season. Those were the only two girls who put the puck in the net a lot. We’re more balanced.”

But, even with the reliance on so many young players and the loss of the two big scoring threats, the KnightRiders didn’t enter the season with talk of rebuilding.

“We had high expectations,” Schumacher said. “We knew we had good goaltending. And we knew these younger girls could play.”