by Matt Gajtka
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Regardless of the sport, the start of every season requires adjustments.
That goes double for youth sports, where athletes rise through the ranks briskly — from debut to graduation — and year-over-year roster churn is the only constant.
The BK Selects girls are managing those issues as well as could be expected, as both squads are again ranking among the nation’s best through the first month of the 2022-23 season.
Results bear that out — the third-ranked 19U team is a remarkable 10-0-4 with a tourney title already under its belt and the 11th-ranked 16U squad has piled up an 11-4-3 record — but, of course, much of the acclimating is going on below the surface.
“New season, new players, new faces,” 16U head coach Jake Anderson said. “We bring in a lot of younger kids and new kids at our level. They have to make up that ground because they haven’t been there before. In the first month we’ve made some huge strides, and becoming more consistent.”
There’s undoubtedly some difficulty in jumping from the 16U level to 19U, as BK’s VP of Hockey Paul Colontino can attest through his duties as head coach of the 19Us. He chalks up the “significant jump” between levels to the overall pace and intensity of the games.
“The gaps (between players) are tighter and there’s less time and space,” Colontino said. “The players tend to adjust quickly, but there’s a change.”
However, an argument could be made that the bigger jump occurs between standing out with local youth hockey programs and competing on a national stage as a 16U player.
Bridging that gap is a large part of the job early on for Anderson and his staff, which includes assistants Scott Macdonald, Jason Simmons and newcomer Mel Ames.
“A lot of kids who come here were the best kids where they were,” Anderson explained. “At 14U you can do a lot on your own, but we play a lot of teams where it’s hard to be individual and succeed.
“Using your teammates and trusting your teammates gives the individual the success she’s looking for. I don’t think anyone is selfish is a bad way, but to build a team atmosphere and a team goal, it takes a little while.”
Fortunately for the 16Us, who just went 2-1-1 over a tough weekend in New Hampshire to open October, they have some veterans to lean on when it comes to protecting the net.
Not only do they have a pair of sophomores leading the defense in Alara Murphy (Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia) and third-year BK’er Miami Jones (Chevy Chase, Md.), returning goalie Emeline Grennan (Washington, D.C.) has taken a step forward from last year — both in role and performance.
“I feel my confidence has pushed me to take the next step in my development,” said Grennan, who shared the net with Czechia’s Michaela Hesova last season. “My performance shows I’ve gained more confidence than last year and it makes me feel stronger about my ability.”
Grennan said she spent part of her summer working on being quicker around the net and controlling rebounds better. She said that technical improvement has boosted her self-belief, but part of her increased confidence can be attributed to something more intangible, but equally important.
“I think (my confidence) comes from my teammates trusting in me,” Grennan said, “and showing that they trust me.”
“She’s been our rock this year,” Anderson said. “Our most consistent player.”
There’s also plenty of leadership up front for the 16Us, with two juniors in Morgan Walton (Geneseo, N.Y.) and Adreanna Stamper (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) heading up a group of six returners in the forward corps.
Anderson said injuries and illness have already been a concern for his roster, but up front “a different kid is stepping up every game.”
Not that there’s much room for nitpicking, especially with many months left to go in the season, but a recent loss to No. 1-ranked East Coast Wizards in New Hampshire shows Anderson where his team can stand to improve.
While BK had edged the Wizards at the Labor Day Girls Fest tournament in Pittsburgh, this time East Coast got its revenge with a 4-3 win over the Selects. Anderson noted that BK allowed two of those goals on breakaways and two more on 2-on-1 rushes, emblematic of an early-season issue with wavering focus.
“We’ve got to be more consistent throughout games,” Anderson said. “We were really good for long stretches.We’re continuing to grow.
“Our group is really talented and connected and our younger kids have been here for five weeks, so it’s time for our returners to keep pushing the group forward.”
After taking this weekend off from games, the 16Us will join the 19Us in greater Detroit the following weekend for another significant tournament.
“It’s a huge test in October,” Anderson said, “to see where we are.”
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