New Prague senior Mikaela Algren battled for possession of the puck against New Ulm on Friday. The Trojans aim to make their first state appearance since 2008. Photo by Genevieve Ross • Special to the Star Tribune
New Prague's girls' hockey team went to the state tournament four times in a five-year period from 2004-08. It averaged nearly 20 victories a season during that span.
The Trojans had plenty of firepower up front, including Division I recruits Jenna Kilpatrick (Ohio State) and Kacy Ambroz (Minnesota Duluth).
"When you lose two dominant players like that, the next season can turn into a rebuilding year quickly," Trojans coach Matt Miller said.
The graduation of those two standouts was magnified as other schools in the section raised the level of their play. In the ensuing four years, New Prague only had one winning season. It went 13-11-2 in 2009-10.
"I don't think we took much of a step back," Miller said. "It was more the other schools in the section took a big leap. The level of play in our section is a night-and-day difference between now and then."
Not until this season has New Prague had its sights on ending the state tournament drought. The Trojans are 17-5-1 entering the final week of the regular season.
"I think we have snuck up on some people this year," Miller said. "We have a veteran club, and are loaded with seniors. After the first couple of weeks, I thought we might have something special."
The difference in this team was showcased against Missota Conference champion Red Wing. The Trojans dropped the first meeting 8-2, but bounced back a month later to win 4-3.
"We have learned what it takes to be successful," Trojans senior forward Kasey Marquardt said. "Not one person can do it by themselves. The whole team has to work hard if we want to win."
Marquardt is one of five players with at least 10 goals on the season. Senior forward Brittany Sticha tops the goal scorers with 28, and senior forward Lindsay Paschke leads the team in points (22 goals-28 assists-50 points).
"We are where we are today because of all the improvements we have made," Marquardt said.
The biggest area of improvement since the last year has been on defense. The Trojans are allowing 2.0 goals per game, almost half of what they yielded during the 2011-12 season. Senior Sophie Puente has played nearly every game in goal.
"The most important thing for us is to play together as a unit," Trojans senior defenseman Mikaela Algren. "Coach Miller has done a great job of bringing us together."
Now they must clear the final hurdle, a return trip to the state tournament.
"One of my goals growing up was always to go to the state tournament, and I haven't done it so far," Algren said. "Going to the state tournament would definitely be the ultimate way to end my career."