Grand Forks KnightRiders motivated by coaches' poll
After reaching state semifinals last season, KnightRiders picked seventh in this year's preseason poll
Kaylee Baker started all 25 games in net for the Grand Forks KnightRiders last season. As a sophomore, she garnered a reputation as a level-headed and mature young athlete in one of the sport’s more demanding positions.
The team, backstopped by Baker, captured a double-overtime state quarterfinal win after striking out the previous three times at state.
This year Baker has been given a full captaincy by head coach Alex Hedlund as the now junior goalie and her teammates look to return to the state tournament.
“She’s been our starting goalie since eighth grade and is just a natural leader,” Hedlund said. “It’s a work ethic. She’s always giving her best and when it's not her best she’s finding out what she needs to do to make it better. She’s one shot at a time, one goal at a time. In that double-overtime game, the locker room was frazzled but Kaylee wasn’t. That wears off to the kids.”
Baker’s mindset is one that Hedlund is hoping influences others and benefits the program as a whole as it looks to transition from last year’s important senior class.
“If we can’t get things going the right way in the room, on the ice and off the ice, we are not going to win games. You need each of those different pieces to have a successful puzzle. Everyone needs to be working together and filling their role,” said Baker..
In front of Baker there has been some change. Two of the state’s top 10 scorers last season, Shaley Richards and Morgan Stenseth, have graduated, along with defenders Hannah Gray and Maya Tellmann ,who rounded out the team’s top six scorers.
Stepping in to help build off that foundation are three freshmen and five sophomores, including defender Mya Mannausau and forward Emma Gray, who have combined for two goals and two assists in the first two games of this season.
But the biggest impact Hedlund is hoping this new edition makes is with the culture of the program. In preparation for the season, the team was tasked with coming up with goals they wanted to accomplish as a team. What they came up with fit into those themes.
“Kids move on. We will miss them but we have to move on ,too,” said Hedlund. “We wanted them to be obtainable goals and ones that we could really see and one of the ones they chose was to outwork every team we play. They chose that goal and now as coaches, we are challenging them to that goal and holding them to that standard.”
An added layer of perseverance was added heading into the season when the team was picked seventh in the coach's poll. It is the lowest placing the program has seen since Hedlund has been coach.
“We could be upset and feel bad for ourselves or we could use it as motivation,” said Hedlund.
Ahead of them in fourth is Minot, who Grand Forks defeated in last year’s quarterfinal in double-overtime. It was a win that meant a lot to a team that had worked so hard to reach that next round.
“Our team last season, not one of those girls had ever been to a semifinal hockey game. They had lost every year. Finally, we were able to get there. Yes we lost a lot of talent and a lot of goals, but what we have back is experience and exciting promise in our new players this year,” said Hedlund.
There may be new faces this year, but mindset and expectations are to build off that win and semifinal loss.
So far the KnightRiders are 1-1 after a 3-1 loss to reigning champions Fargo Davies and a 9-3 win over Devils Lake. Baker has made 59 saves thus far while juniors Quinn Fournier, Averi Greenwood and Annika Presteng have all collected four points in those two games to lead the team.
Wave look to improve from last season
The East Grand Forks Green Wave are looking to improve on their 4-14-1 record last season and improve their goal-scoring ability.
There were long stretches last year where the team was held scoreless. In five games this year, they are 2-3 and have averaged 4.6 goals a game including a 13-3 win over Detroit Lakes.
Leaders Kara Ellis and Kendra Emery have already matched their season point total from last year. Ellis has amassed six goals and four assists and Emery has three goals and four assists.
Grand Forks KnightRiders
Head coach: Alex Hedlund
Last season: 15-10, reached state semifinal
Top returners: Jr. Kaylee Baker, sr. Emily Becker, jr. Annika Presteng, jr. Averi Greenwood, jr. Quinn Fournier
Outlook: Enter the season ranked seventh in the state coaches' poll.
Coach Hedlund says: “If we can’t get things going the right way in the room, on the ice and off the ice we are not going to win games. You need each of those different pieces to have a successful puzzle. Everyone needs to be working together and filling their role.”
East Grand Forks Green Wave
Head coach: Brad Larson
Last season: 4-14-1, lost section semifinal
Top returners: Jr. Kara Ellis, sr. Kendra Emery, so. Maggey Plante, sr. Ashley Corbett
Outlook: Return three of their four top scorers and starting goaltender.
Coach Larson says: “For the most part we’re getting good leadership and doing good things and we’re excited about the year. We just have to keep building on that. We’re excited about the young girls and what they have brought. So far in the first few weeks we’ve been really happy.”