Fruits of Their Labor: 19Us Snag Trophy in Pittsburgh to Open Season

by Matt Gajtka

PITTSBURGH — Although it was the first event of the new season, the BK Selects girls teams couldn’t be accused of easing their way into 2022-23.

On the contrary, the second-annual Labor Day Girls Fest featured as competitive a field as one could imagine, considering every team is still finding their footing on the first weekend of September.

Not that you’d know it from looking at the BK Selects’ results: A championship for the 19Us and a runner-up finish for the 16Us.

What’s more, the 19Us ran the table in the Steel City, sporting a 6-0 record highlighted by a pair of extra-time victories over the powerhouse Minnesota Jr. Whitecaps. Junior forward Angelina DiGirolamo (Woburn, Mass. / Princeton University) scored the overtime winner in the second of those showdowns, delivering a 2-1 win in the 19U Gold Division final.

“The most promising part of the weekend was the progression of the team’s game,” 19Us head coach Paul Colontino said. “We had some good character tests early that set us up for a nice semifinal and final. Good to see how the team handled things.”

Senior forward Bella Vasseur (Waitsfield, Vt. / University of Wisconsin) tied for the age-group lead with eight points (5g, 3a), including two goals in a 4-1 semifinal win over the East Coast (Mass.) Wizards. She also netted a hat trick in a round-robin victory against the Kingston (Ont.) Jr. Ice Wolves.

Vasseur said the 19U returners gelled with the newcomers extraordinarily well in late August, setting up this impressive season-opening performance. She noted it took just one practice for the familiarity to start building.

“We all connected by the second practice, and our team energy was high this whole weekend,” Vasseur said. “Our instant chemistry as a team really played a role. We outworked everyone and worked together to create individual and team success.”

BK earned its first banner of the season, thanks to the 19Us. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

Lucia DiGirolamo, a Princeton recruit like her twin sister Angelina, scored in back-to-back wins over Mid Fairfield and Detroit Belle Tire. Lucia was one of four Selects with multiple goals in the event, along with her sister, Vasseur and senior Peyton Compton (Sanford, Fla. / Northeastern University).

Lucia said the transition from 16U to 19U was “nothing crazy,” adding that the coaching staff did well to prepare the newcomers for the increased pace and decreased space at the older level of play.

“I think the team performed great,” Lucia said. “We rose to the task at hand and did what was expected from our group. Based on last year’s seasons for both teams, everyone had high expectations for our squad and I think we’re on the right track to achieving it.”

Colontino and staff split the goaltending duties down the middle, with great results from senior Ava McNaughton (Wexford, Pa. / Wisconsin) and junior Michaela Hesova (Hovorčovice, Czechia). The former stopped 48 of 49 shots (.979 save percentage) with two shutouts and the latter denied 31 of 33 (.939 SV%) and one clean sheet.

While the players certainly had some expectations for the start of a new year, Colontino was sure to remind that the weekend was an exploratory mission as much as anything.

“You want to have a little bit of a base for the tournament and you want to grow,” he said. “I don’t think there’s concrete expectations. It’s simply learning about your team and each other. Figuring out what kind of tools you have in the toolbox.”

16U head coach Jake Anderson should be pleased with what he has at his disposal this season, too, if the result from the Labor Day Girls Fest means anything. A 1-0 loss in the Gold Division championship game to the Jr. Whitecaps was all that separated BK Selects from a double crown.

“It was a great weekend overall,” Anderson said. “Tough loss in the championship, but it was a great weekend.”

Denmark’s Olivia Olesen shined in her first BK Selects action. (CHRISTINA COLONTINO/BK SELECTS)

Along the way to the final, the 16Us prevailed in a pair of OT games, beating East Coast Wizards in the quarterfinal round and Minnesota Northern Elite Green in the semifinals. Sophomore forward Bella Fanale (Webster, N.Y.) and sophomore defender Miami Jones (Chevy Chase, Md.) scored the winners in those.

For the tournament, Fanale and Danish eighth-grader Olivia Olesen (Odense, Denmark) tied the team lead with three goals each, while Megan Meola (Long Valley, N.J.) and Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) put up five points apiece.

Overall, the BK Selects contingent was pleased with the elevated level of play so early in the fall. Unlike in last year’s inaugural event, Canadian teams were free to travel, which added to what was already an attractive tourney in its first edition.

“It was extremely competitive,” Vasseur said. “All of the games were fast-paced and physical.”

And, to top it off, Colontino could smile about claiming a banner in the city where he won three College Hockey America conference championships as longtime coach of the Robert Morris University NCAA Division I women’s program.

“It’s great,” Colontino said “It’s run incredibly well in terms of everything, from communication to organization. And the quality of the teams you’re able to compete against, from Canada and the U.S., was great.”

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