OSWEGO — The Oswego State University women’s ice hockey team endured its growing pains last season, but with all four captains and a majority of its scoring back in the lineup for the upcoming year, the battle-tested squad is eager to contend in the Northeast Women’s Hockey League.
The Lakers will drop the puck on the new season at 7 p.m. tonight with a nonconference road game at Castleton University in Vermont.
Oswego will again be led by returning captain and senior defender Kate Randazzo, along with three second-year assistant captains, senior defender Madison Byrne, senior forward Natalie Giglio, and junior defender Philomena Teggart.
“Last year we had a bunch of freshmen but I think this year we have a more even amount of returners with experience and some new faces, and we’re all blending together well,” Teggart said following a recent practice. “We’re just trying to build the culture here and teach the newcomers how we go about things.”
This year’s roster features five seniors and 11 upperclassmen overall, compared to last year’s totals of 14 underclassmen and a combined six juniors and seniors.
All but one player that scored a goal last year is back for the upcoming campaign, and 44 of Oswego’s 50 goals last season were scored by players who have returned to the program.
Oswego finished with a 10-13-2 overall record and a 5-9-2 mark in the NEWHL for the program’s lowest overall win total in nine seasons last year, and coach Diane Dillon believes the added experience should help the Lakers improve upon its 2018-19 showing.
“The positive side of it is that now we have several seasoned sophomores and juniors that have had a lot of playing time,” said Dillon, Oswego’s head coach since the program re-launched in 2006. “Some of the other clubs we play against, it takes a little while to get that ice time, but our kids play. They play through the mistakes and they get mentally tougher, physically tougher, and as sophomores they are well-versed with what we’re trying to do and how we run Oswego hockey, and I think that can give us a competitive edge.”
Senior forward Eryn Stewart and sophomore Sara Cruise, who each produced six goals and eight assists last season to tie for the team lead in both categories, will be back to help guide the Oswego offense.
The Lakers also bring back leading goalie Rachael Farmer, who logged a team-high 751 minutes minding the net while recording 372 saves at a rate of .942 percent.
Oswego graduated just two seniors and added seven new players, including six freshmen and junior transfer Amber Thomas. Thomas finished her sophomore year at Division III Plymouth State University with five goals and six assists, and won 24-of-35 face-offs combined and tallied an assist during Oswego’s two preseason games.
“I think all the new players are going to be a big benefit for us,” Madison Byrne said.
“We have a lot of new freshmen so I think it’s about teaching them how we go about things and what we do here in practice, like our determination and how motivated we are,” she added. “We’re a really close team even this early in the season, so I think that will help us on the ice too.”
The Lakers’ ended last season with a 7-1 loss to eventual NCAA Division III national champion Plattsburgh in the NEWHL Tournament. They were forced to play at the top seed following a difficult stretch to end the regular season, losing eight of their last 10 games while battling through injuries and lack of late-season experience.
Dillon said that she believes some of the lessons learned by the Lakers during their struggles down the stretch last year can be utilized to aid their efforts in the upcoming campaign. Oswego’s first home game is slated for Nov. 13 against Buffalo State in a NEWHL matchup.
“We really learned to work through adversity as best we could, and I think they came out of that with a hunger,” Dillon said. “One of the big motivating factors is that last year, we missed second place by a point, so one game we lost at the end of the year made the difference of being able to host a playoff game and going on the road (to Plattsburgh). That one burned a bit and is kind of lingering around in the gut. I think that really gave them some fuel headed into the offseason and into this year, to make sure that we’re in control of our fate and not relying on other teams.”
Dillon will be joined by two new assistant coaches this year. Mark Digby, formerly an assistant coach of the Oswego men’s team for the past nine seasons, and Megan Ahern were added to the staff following the end of last season.
“I think it really brings a whole other element to what we can provide to the Lakers hockey program and I think the future is extremely exciting,” Dillon said of the new coaching staff.