BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
In his 14 seasons as head coach of the Williamsville Varsity Girls Ice Hockey Team, Rick Hopkins has seen it all. But the 2023-24 hockey season may be the biggest challenge yet for the veteran hockey coach.
When the WNYGVIHF season opened this year, the Williamsville girls’ hockey roster was dotted with five seventh graders as well as four more eighth graders.
To make matters even more interesting there was only one senior returning to the team: Shannon Pogorzala. And one junior: Sophia DePrima.
What it all adds up to is an interesting and challenging season for Hopkins and his girls’ varsity ice hockey team.
“This is a new era of hockey for Williamsville girls varsity hockey,” commented Hopkins. “We’ve never had as young a team as we do this year.”
Despite the fact that it is a young team, the entire coaching staff for Williamsville’s girls’ varsity hockey team is very excited.
“The satisfaction we’re getting is seeing the learning curve and the improvement that they’re making,” remarked Hopkins. “And a lot of it is the mental improvement.
“Remember, you have seventh grade girls playing against seniors, there is a difference in height and weight. But our girls are staying positive.”
Hopkins remembered back during this past summer when he realized that he had only 11 returning players for the 2023-24 campaign.
“I knew we were going to be thin, as far as varsity experience went,” recalled Hopkins. “I was thrilled when I found out that we had nine middle-school girls taking the test that has to be passed before they can try out for a varsity sport.
“For me, that was a victory for the team before the season even started. We ended up with 21 girls at the tryout.”
While leadership usually comes from the veteran players on a team, it proved to be an interesting situation for Williamsville.
“Shannon Pogorzala is our only senior on the team,” said Hopkins. “She had been voted a captain on the team as a junior, which shows the kind of leadership skills she has.
“Sophia DePrima, who is the only junior on the team, is our other captain. She was an alternate captain last year.
“But we have a core of sophomores on the team, who feel like seniors because they have been on the team for three to four years already.
“There is Allie Besancon, Scarlet Canna, Kaitlyn Laudico, Alena Lombardo, Caydence Curran, Anna Meyer, Addison Stachura and Scarlet Canna. In what I’ve seen so far of their play this season, they have shown the maturity of seniors, which is what I was hoping I would see.”
When it comes to goaltending, that is in the hands of seventh grader Olivia Lookman.
“From the first day of practice this year, I could see that Olivia was an experienced goalie for her age. She is calm and cool and is playing beyond her years.”
With all this information, this year’s edition of Williamsville Girls Varsity Hockey knows the winning tradition of the team as well as the past success teams have had.
“This is a team that plays with grit and never backs down,” concluded Hopkins. “Age and grades are just numbers to these girls.
“The girls will put in the effort in every game. That’s all we ask.”
(Photos by Janet Schultz Photography/NY Hockey OnLine)