Category: 19U Girls

16U Girls Stopped in National Title Game, 19Us Make U.S. Quarterfinals

by Matt Gajtka

PITTSBURGH — When you make it as far as the Bishop Kearney Selects girls teams did, the end of a season often seems like a paradox.

Do you celebrate the achievement, in this case, earning your place in the knockout round of USA Hockey’s national tournament? Or do you lament how close you came to standing atop the mountain?

How about both?

Although the BK Selects 16U and 19U squads ultimately did not bring trophies back from Nationals — with the younger group getting closer by making the championship game — this season provided even more evidence that the program has established itself as a perennial contender in elite girls hockey.

“The girls put up a goal at the beginning of the year to play for a national championship,” said 16U head coach Jake Anderson. “This year showed all that work come to fruition. They bought in and played for each other and not themselves. Extremely proud.”

The 16Us, who finished the season with a nation-leading 55 victories, sustained their lone loss of the 16-team tournament Monday morning at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, with Minnesota Gray pulling away for a 5-2 win in the title tilt.

But the indelible, symbolic image of the tournament for BK Selects will undoubtedly be Greta Brezenski’s overtime game-winner in the semifinal round the day before. The 16Us trailed the Michigan-based powerhouse Little Caesars 2-0 entering the third, but goals from Lucia DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass.) and Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) in the third forced extra time.

Not only did Brezenski’s in-tight strike deliver the 16Us’ first win over Little Caesars in two years, it also happened with most of the 19U team standing 10 feet away behind the glass.

“I was so zoned into the game,” said Brezenski (Waunakee, Wisc.), who also assisted on Walton’s short-handed equalizer. “I was so laser-focused on scoring. I did not want the season to end without our team proving just how great we are.”

The older group had been knocked out of the tourney the previous day by eventual national champion Little Caesars 19U, but that disappointment didn’t keep them from being there to start the party.

“We got back to the locker room,” DiGirolamo said, “and the 19s were waiting in there to celebrate with us. That’s just a fun thing I’ll remember forever. We are one program and I think having both teams there made a huge difference.”

“You don’t plan those moments, but they just happen,” Anderson said. “The ‘BK Family’ is what we talk about and the programs have really embraced that. It becomes bigger than the individual.”

Brezenski, who scored five goals and assisted on four others in six Nationals games, also notched the sudden-death winner in the final game of round-robin play, vanquishing the East Coast Wizards and allowing BK to finish tops in its four-team group.

Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) paced the national runner-ups with 10 points (3g, 7a), while twins Lucia and Angelina each netted four goals and three assists. Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia) started five of the six games, sporting a .902 save percentage.

Even counting the championship defeat, the 16Us won 18 of their last 20 games. Mind you, most of those games were played under postseason stress, plus the self-imposed pressure to deliver Bishop Kearney’s first girls hockey national title.

“We showed a lot of perseverance and resilience,” Brezenski said. “We were very much seen as the underdog by a lot of people and I don’t think they thought we would make the (national) final. I am so proud of us for showing everyone what the BK brand of hockey is.”

The fight for the top of an increasingly-deep girls hockey landscape will continue, with BK Selects one of a handful of programs who have proven to be there at the end year after year.

That, of course, goes for the 19Us as well. While head coach Paul Colontino’s group didn’t finish atop the nation, they did deliver another state championship along with two other tournament triumphs and a 44-17-3 overall record.

“Our last game was against the best, and we’re right there with them,” said Colontino, who wrapped his first season as Bishop Kearney’s VP of Hockey. “The part I liked was how hard we battled. A quarter-inch here and a quarter-inch there could’ve made a huge difference.”

Senior Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Wisconsin) wrapped up her BK career by leading the team with six points (1g, 5a) in four games. Junior Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla./Northeastern) scored the Selects’ lone goal of the semifinal and finished with three in the tournament, pacing the squad.

Junior goalie Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa./Wisconsin) was strong between the pipes while playing every minute of all four Nationals games, posting a .924 save percentage.

“I’m still really proud of the team and how we always stuck together,” said German-born senior forward Nina Christof, who will attend RPI in the fall. “It’s still without a doubt a major accomplishment. A lot of time we lose this view because we are so focused on becoming the national champion.

“Our coaches do a great job of making sure that we know no matter what happens at the end of the year, we had a great season and have evolved as a person as well as a hockey player.”

From the holistic perspective, 2021-22 was a banner year for BK. All six teams — both girls and boys — qualified for Nationals, with the 16U boys breaking through for the school’s first USA Hockey crown.

Furthermore, all six teams made the national quarterfinals, with three teams getting as far as the semis and two advancing to the final game of the season. On the trail to the summit, Bishop Kearney has set up a sizable base camp.

“The rate of growth is exponential,” Colontino said. “We’re really pleased with the success of the teams and the program as a whole. A fantastic season.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

They’re on to Pittsburgh: 19Us & 16Us Win States, Advance to Nationals

by Matt Gajtka

AMHERST, N.Y. — Their routes were different, but their results were the same. They’re on to Pittsburgh.

The BK Selects 19U and 16U girls hockey teams both reigned victorious last weekend at the Northtown Center, claiming New York state championships and accompanying berths in the upcoming national tournament.

While the 10th-ranked 19Us (39-15-3) swept the Buffalo Bisons in a two-game series to grab another banner — outscoring their in-state foe by a combined score of 14-0 — the seventh-ranked 16Us (45-12-5) had to survive a three-game round robin and two elimination matchups before they could follow suit.

But, again, the upshot is that both girls teams will again represent Bishop Kearney at nationals, which start March 31 in western Pennsylvania. Each squad has one more mountain to climb to reach its ultimate goal.

“We relied on everyone to do their part and stick to the plan,” said 16Us forward Angelina DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass.), who led the tournament with six goals and nine total points. “We were able to maintain our emotions, which played a big role in that.

“No matter what the score was or how much time was left we always relied on one another.”

There were several pivotal points over the weekend for the 16Us, which swept its round-robin games over Syracuse Nationals (4-0), Buffalo Bison (4-0) and Valley Eagles (4-2). In the last of those three, Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) and Rae Mayer (Chesapeake, Va.) scored power-play goals less than a minute apart in the third period to put BK Selects ahead for good and give them the top seed for the elimination rounds.

In a semifinal matchup against Syracuse, the situation was even more dicey entering the third, with the Nationals rallying from 3-1 down to carry a 4-3 lead after two. But Angelina DiGirolamo set up her twin sister Lucia (Woburn, Mass.) for the tying power-play goal four minutes into the final period, followed by a dramatic game-winner from Peyton Palsa (Annapolis, Md.) with two minutes left in regulation, assisted by McCarthy.

“We had some awesome third periods over the weekend,” said 16Us head coach Jake Anderson. “We’re getting more mature and more confident in each other. We’re staying the course even when the game isn’t going great.”

The Selects never trailed in the state final, a 3-1 win over Valley Eagles, but it was tight all the way through. Angelina DiGiorlamo scored twice, starting with a short-handed goal in the first period and capped by an empty-netter. Forward Greta Brezenski (Waunakee, Wisc.) netted a crucial score as well, giving the Selects a 2-0 lead halfway through the third.

Brezenski’s tally was the 16Us’ seventh power-play goal of the tourney on 21 opportunities, good for a 33 percent conversion rate on the biggest weekend of the season. Brezenski and Angelina DiGirolamo each scored two of those, with the latter adding three PP assists. McCarthy had three (1g, 2a) of her seven points on the advantage, as did Lucia DiGirolamo. Defender Megan Healy (South Burlington, Vt.) recorded four assists on the weekend, all on the power play.

“I’d say our ability to move the puck” was crucial, said Angelina DiGirolamo. “It causes the opposing team to get scrambled and you can really see the ice open up. As we do that, it creates a lot of chances to get a clear shot on net and get rebounds, too.”

Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia) and Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) split the goaltending duties, with each earning a shutout in the round robin and each backstopping a win in the elimination round. Hesova, who started the final, stopped 51 of 54 shots for a .944 save percentage that ranked third in the event.

Anderson said the team was “primed” to peak in the late stages of the season and he felt the players turned a corner in January toward more cohesive play.

“We’ve grown up a lot,” Anderson said. “We’re taking pride in our own end and getting more mature. We’re playing some of our best hockey.”

The BK Selects 19Us gather around their third banner of the season. (BK SELECTS)

The same can be said for the 19Us, who in the past month have grabbed a pair of championships, starting with the Motor City Girls Fest in early February. Hoisting the New York crown wasn’t as arduous — it took two games as opposed to six — but the reality was simply this: The season was on the line against the Buffalo Bisons.

Game 1 was scoreless after one period, but defender Kendall Butze (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Penn State) scored a power-play goal off an assist from fellow Buckeye State senior Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Wisconsin) to put BK in front. Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla./Northeastern) scored an unassisted short-handed goal, her first of two tallies on the day, followed by another PPG in the third from Edwards.

Nineteen saves from Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa./Wisconsin) later, and the Selects were one win from nationals.

“I think the team executed as well as we did this weekend because of all the work we put in during the season,” Edwards said. “You could see we worked much harder as the year went along and we were more bought in against our opponent.

“That really set us up for success. I’m proud of this group.”

Much like the first game against Buffalo, Game 2 was close entering the second, with the Selects up just 1-0. Three goals in the second alleviated some stress, and a six-goal third left no doubt.

Edwards scored a goal and assisted on four others, giving her a team-high seven points (2g, 5a) on the weekend. Junior forward Olivia Rubenstein (Glencoe, Ill.) scored twice in the third, both assisted by Caroline Kee (McLean, Va./Wesleyan), who finished the tournament with three helpers.

All in all, nine BK Selects players earned multiple points on the weekend, and six more wrote their names on the scoresheet once. McNaughton denied all 27 shots she faced before Chloe Lewis (Monson, Mass.) took over for the final 23 minutes of the two-game sweep.

“It was great to see everyone dialed in and contributing,” 19Us head coach Paul Colontino said, noting that his team got a much-needed “reset” after going 1-3 on an otherwise-celebratory senior weekend.

“We got some rest and got refocused,” Colontino continued. “Now we’re focused on making sure we’re healthy and getting into great shape (for nationals).”

Both girls teams will have the next three weekends off from games as they prepare for the final step of the 2021-22 season. They’ll be one of 16 teams in the running for a national title in the greater Pittsburgh area.

Fortunately for the majority of this group, it’s not the first time they’ll be exposed to this kind of tension.

“It’s still nerve-wracking, but less nerve-wracking when you’ve been there a time or two,” Edwards said. “Going in, we have a good idea of what to expect.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com.

Senior Moments: BK Celebrates the Accomplished, Determined Class of ’22

by Matt Gajtka

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The New York state tournament is approaching on the horizon, set to begin this weekend.

But before the intensity ratcheted up to the highest level of the season, the Bishop Kearney Selects 19U girls team had an opportunity to celebrate its accomplished senior class.

The 11 members of the Class of 2022 were honored Saturday, Feb. 11 at Bill Gray’s Iceplex, in a pregame ceremony complete with banners on the glass, decorated locker stalls, photos with loved ones at center ice and a banquet afterward.

It was the centerpiece of a weekend that was bookended by a Friday dinner and a Sunday brunch. In short, it was the least the program could do for a group that has helped put BK Selects on the international hockey map.

“We basically celebrated the seniors through the weekend,” said 19U associate head coach/director of girls hockey Cari Coen, who coordinated the effort with the underclassmen.

“We made sure they got all the time they deserved for putting our program into the best place they can. It’s fun to see what legacy they’ve built and what they’ll leave behind.”

Pending the results of the upcoming postseason, the Class of ’22 has left behind a lot.

The group of 11 has already reached national championship games at the 16U and 19U levels, respectively, not even counting the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 scuttled what appeared to be another title-worthy playoff run.

Calli Arnold, Nina Christof, Caroline Kee, Sophia Nortz, Laila Edwards, Vanessa Stamper, Megan McKay, Ella Altiman, Kendall Butze, Liliana Moose and Brooke George will all move on in the spring, but they’ll depart knowing they created an impressive legacy.

“This group of leaders and seniors have sacrificed a lot to put the team and the program,” Coen said. “They’ve been hit with many adverse situations and they’ve met them head-on with grace and determination.”

Include the three fifth-year seniors — Edwards, Butze and Christof enrolled at Bishop Kearney in the fall of 2017 for their eighth-grade years — and the class has actually accounted for three trips to the national championship game.

Considering 2017-18 was just the second year of the girls program, the Class of ’22 has almost written the entire history of BK Selects.

“In terms of on-ice and off-ice our class is deep in talent and overall great people,” said Edwards, a forward from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who’s committed to the University of Wisconsin. “They’ve all represented what BK is trying to showcase.”

As expected for someone who’s been part of so much success on campus, Edwards said she felt some mixed emotions during the senior ceremony.

“Getting to celebrate with friends and family is the best thing you can ask for,” she said, “but it’s going to be hard to leaving this group of people.”

“It was very bittersweet! You wait for this moment your whole youth hockey career, then it actually comes. You’re happy, of course, but it’s very sentimental.”

Butze, a Penn State-committed defender from Shaker Heights, Ohio, confessed to similar emotions, particularly when hearing the “amazing” tribute speeches from classmates, Coen and head coach Paul Colontino at the Saturday postgame banquet.

“They were very special to hear,” Butze said, also noting the personalized decorations around the rink. “It was emotional because I’ve been here for five years, so it’s become a second home to me, and a second family.

“I think the biggest thing I took from the weekend was realizing there’s not a lot of time left to enjoy where I am, and that I can’t take any time left I have for granted.”

Loved ones hold up cardboard likenesses of BK seniors. (RICHARD COMPTON/BK SELECTS)

Make no mistake, either: The class is also determined to fill the one ‘gap’ in their collective résumé, if you could even call it that.

When asked how she hoped the Class of ’22 would be remembered, Christof kept it short and sweet.

“Hopefully, winning the first national championship!” she said.

A forward from Hammelburg, Germany, who will play at RPI next fall, Christof also couldn’t help but mention that the 19U’s three losses on senior weekend should provide extra fuel the next time the team plays a game.

“I think we could have played better,” she said, “but it was really special to be able to play in front of so many people who care so deeply about us.”

As far as the end of their BK Selects careers go, there’s only so much each individual player from the Class of ’22 can do. The competition in the state and, hopefully, national tournaments will be stiff and the games will almost certainly be close.

So, they’ll have to focus on the process in their final weeks wearing the black, red and white, with high hopes that the result they want will be their last on-ice memory at Bishop Kearney.

“I want to leave knowing the senior class created a good culture for everyone,” Butze said. “That we showed how hard we worked together as one unit, and how well we all got along.”

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com .

Masters of Motown: 19Us Claim Second Title of Season in Detroit

by Matt Gajtka

FRASER, Mich. — It’s not often a team gets a second chance at knocking off No. 1, but on Sunday afternoon at Big Boy Arena, the BK Selects 19Us had such an opportunity.

After falling 3-2 to top-ranked Little Caesars on Friday in the round-robin portion of the Motor City Girls Fest, the Selects struck back against the powerhouse Detroit-based program with a 3-0 victory in the championship game, earning their second tournament title of the 2021-22 season.

“When the chips were on the table and there was a championship at stake,” said 19Us head coach Paul Colontino, “the way our team responded was exceptional.”

Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa./Wisconsin) earned her fourth shutout of the weekend in the title tilt, stopping 37 Little Caesars shots. Due to an injury to Chloe Lewis (Monson, Mass.), McNaughton had to go it alone in what ended up being a six-game marathon.

“Little Caesars is always a physical, high-pressure game,” McNaughton said. “On Sunday, all I could think about was doing whatever I could for the team. I didn’t really realize how tired and sore I was until the bus ride after.”

In fact, McNaughton didn’t let a single goal in during the playoff portion of the tournament, as the eighth-ranked Selects (33-11-3) knocked out two other Michigan teams in Belle Tire (1-0 in the quarterfinals) and Honeybaked (3-0 in the semis).

“I loved how every player stepped up this weekend,” McNaughton said. “Every player put it all on the line for the team. It allowed us to come up with huge plays, whether it be penalty kills, power plays, blocked shots, big saves or outlasting an opponent’s pressure.

“It was super-exciting to see our team play better and better every game. To win the championship against a team we had lost to earlier was very fulfilling.”

Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt./Wisconsin) was similarly productive under the bright lights, scoring the Selects’ first (and only) goal against Belle Tire with a solo spinning effort, followed by a hard wrister from her off-wing against Honeybaked to put BK on top early in that one, too.

Much like the team, Vasseur rebounded from round-robin disappointment, as she was stopped on a last-minute penalty shot in the first meeting with Little Caesars.

“I was very excited,” said Vasseur about the chance to play Little Caesars with everything on the line. “It’s always a great game when we play them, and I knew the outcome was going to be different.

“It was a big revenge game.”

Vasseur also assisted on a Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla./Northeastern) rebound goal in the championship game, pushing the 19Us on top first yet again. They would require no further offense, although insurance was certainly welcomed against the nation’s top team.

Laila Edwards (Cleveland Heights, Ohio/Wisconsin) followed up her own breakaway for a 2-0 advantage, then Izzy Krause (Calabasas, Calif.) finished a two-on-one rush for the final goal, going far side after Vanessa Stamper (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) broke up a play in the neutral zone.

“The biggest thing was that we played as a team,” Vasseur said. “We worked as a team, had a lot of energy, and had a lot of fun doing it.”

Edwards scored a pair of goals on Sunday, deking around the Honeybaked goalie for a two-goal lead in the semifinal. She assisted on the victory-capper off the stick of Kendall Butze (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Penn State) as well.

But by the time the final buzzer sounded against Little Caesars, the details blurred into the background. The Selects poured off the bench to mob McNaughton and pose next to a banner that’ll look great next to the one they earned in Nashville back in the fall.

“Three days with two games per day, it’s a marathon,” Colontino said. “You need the depth of a team to do it. We were in a great position come Sunday to be fresh for the first game and then outwork our opponent in the final.”

The 19Us celebrate their Motor City Girls Fest title over Little Caesars. (RICH COMPTON/BK SELECTS)

The eighth-ranked 16Us (37-11-5) came this close to duplicating the 19Us’ feat, falling 3-2 to the Chicago Young Americans in a back-and-forth final.

Jake Anderson’s squad had outscored its first five opponents in the event by a combined total of 23-1, culminating in a 2-0 semifinal victory over Belle Tire. The highest-ranked team in the 16U bracket, No. 5 Little Caesars, had fallen to Belle Tire in the quarterfinal round

“That was probably our best game,” Anderson said of the semi. “First two periods, we came out flying, weren’t giving them anything, moving the puck and playing well in the O-zone. It was good for us to control the whole thing.

“We were able to use the depth of our team. We raised the level as the weekend went on and got through the semifinal game.”

Angela DiGiorlamo (Woburn, Mass.) scored five goals in the three-game playoff round, while Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) piled up a handful of points over those same games.

In goal, the 16Us alternated evenly between Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) and Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia), with each earning two shutouts. Anderson said Hesova played well in the championship despite the loss, while Grennan was “awesome” in the semifinal.

“We just tried to focus on trying to get better every game,” Anderson said. “We wanted to get into the tournament and get everyone going. Now, can we play a little bit better, tighten this up and keep working.”

Along with the 19Us, the 16Us will stay in Rochester this weekend as they host a three-game showcase.

The author can be reached at matt.gajtka@gmail.com for story tips and feedback.

Ahead of Motor City Tourney, Girls Teams Combine for Sweep in Buffalo

by Matt Gajtka

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla.) had an opportunity to change the game. 

Suffice it to say, she took advantage of it.

Compton’s spectacular tying goal gave the BK Selects 19Us a timely lift Friday at Nichols Ice Rink, where they earned a 4-1 victory over Gilmour Academy Prep in the team’s lone game of the weekend.

With the Selects down a goal in the first period, Compton gathered the rebound of her own short-handed breakaway miss and immediately went back to work. Charging out of her strong-side corner on her backhand, the right-handed shooter pulled the puck between her legs for a crafty forehand finish as she approached the crease.

“I asked her, ‘What gave you the idea to do that?’ “ 19U head coach Paul Colontino said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t get that on video.”

After a scoreless second period, the eighth-ranked Selects (35-11-3) pounced for a three-goal third, starting with the eventual game-winner from Caroline Kee (McLean, Va.). 

Defender Kendall Butze (Shaker Heights, Ohio) scored a pair of goals late in regulation to cap off the win, while Chloe Lewis (Easthampton, Mass.) and Eva McNaughton (Seven Fields, Pa.) split the duties in net.

Colontino said he was pleased with the performance, which followed up a four-game gauntlet the previous weekend — three of those against Shattuck St. Mary’s. On top of that, several players were missing from practice during the week due to both illness and midterm exams.

The BK Selects will face Gilmour for the third time this season next weekend in greater Detroit as part of the Motor City Girls Fest. That’ll be the final chance for the 19Us to experience a heavy workload before the district tournament begins in a few weeks.

“We’ve had a nice mix of opponents, playing just about very top team in the country,” Colontino said. “We’ve learned a lot and seen steady improvement throughout the season.”

16U forward Angelina DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass.) drives the net vs. Nichols School on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (BK SELECTS)

It was a similar story for the 16U girls, who beat Nichols School, 3-1, earlier Friday afternoon. The result was reversed from the previous time the teams met in early December, down to the exact final score.

In their final game action before their own trip to the Motor City Girls Fest, the 16Us (37-11-5) got a goal and an assist from Finley McCarthy (Whitefish, Mont.) and single tallies from Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) and defender Ashley Mandeville (Pascoag, R.I.) in building a 3-0 lead through two periods.

The Selects committed multiple penalties in the third as Nichols cut the margin to two, but head coach Jake Anderson was bullish after the win, which boosted his team to 5-2-1 since the holiday break.

“We got a little undisciplined in the third, but we’re really close to where we need to be,” said Anderson, in his second season helming the 16Us. “Things we do most of the time, we have to do every time. I’m proud of how we’ve developed and where we’ve come.”

Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia) earned the win with 15 saves in what Anderson called “the last dress rehearsal” before the Motor City event, which could entail as many as six games in three days.

Detroit Little Caesars, ranked fifth in the nation by MyHockeyRankings, looks to be the stiffest competition for the seventh-ranked 16Us at the tournament, at least on paper.

Regardless, the challenge remains for one of the youngest Tier 1 16U teams in the country to continue to have a growth mindset as the end of the season approaches.

“We have to mature and continue to get better,” Anderson said. “We want to possess the puck and be creative with it. Try to have five players playing offense and play really well in our own end.”