Sophomore year is a weird time.
You’re not a freshman, but you’re not yet an upperclassman. You aren’t consumed by the worldly realities of your older peers—resumés have yet to be perfected, careers aren’t set in stone, and you might even switch your major a couple more times. It’s easy to see why it’s called the sophomore slump. You’re just comfortable. There are no sticks or carrots that could persuade you to actually do something. Unless you’re one of the seven sophomores on Boston College women’s hockey.
For some of them, it’s clear why a slump is impossible. One player knew she wouldn’t get the time on the ice she craved, so she redshirted. With no baseline for her play, she has nowhere to go but up. Another player only played twice.
Others made debuts to positive reviews, but didn’t have the opportunity to excel to the extent that they now can with the seniors out of their way. The rest of the girls fall in between these two—more than a few games under their belts, but only because BC’s stars needed a rest every once in a while.
Experienced or not, these girls want to show BC what they can do. Each has their own unique story, of personality, playing style, and path to the Heights. Without them, the Eagles would fight through depth issues and growing pains over the loss of a strong senior class. With them, they’re national championship contenders yet again.
Most freshmen will struggle to come up with some major accomplishments from their first year of college—I’m talking things bigger than their first ‘A’ in a class or not throwing up at Garage. The sophomores are unique in that their first season with the Eagles was just short of a grand slam. BC went 40-1 last season, falling only in the NCAA National Championship to two-time back-to-back winner Minnesota.
It’s not as cut and dry as saying that the Eagles will repeat it all again this season. They did lose six seniors, including possibly the greatest woman to ever play the game, Alex Carpenter. And those seniors did their part: they combined for 288 points over 41 games. It’s hard to replace a group like that. Makenna Newkirk puts a good-sized dent in that effort.
2015-16 was a breakout season for Newkirk. Everything she tried during a game seemed to work the first time, every time. Newkirk notched 49 points over the 41 games, and was voted Hockey East’s Rookie of the Year. This season, the Eagles are looking to capitalize on her deadly ability to make plays happen. Her position has been switched to center, which gives her more of a responsibility, as well as an easier time to run the ice. To adjust more easily to the role, Newkirk called up Dana Trivigno to get some tips. Though she has had a slow start in her first two games (she hasn’t notched a point yet), there have only been a few practices with her leading the line.
“It will be an easy transition for her if she doesn’t overthink it,” head coach Katie Crowley said.
BC has the best defenseman in the nation in Megan Keller. She is fierce backing up goalie Katie Burt, and was the leading points-scorer among defensmen in the nation last season. It’s good to have the best on your team, but BC doesn’t settle for that. That’s why Grace Bizal is here.
It’s like Bizal has a GPS installed in her brain that tells her where her threats are going to be. She will hunt a person down until she’s satisfied that her opponent cannot even come close to scoring. In the first game of the season against Minnesota Duluth, Bizal played as part of the third pairing for the Eagles. As such a strong defenseman in the third pairing, she adds a depth to the team that will be sure to block many of the shots that come Katie Burt’s way. Paired for now with freshman Caroline Ross, it may be expected that the two would look green, but both have proved themselves to be excellent at redirecting the action to the other side of the ice.
Like Keller once was, Bizal is cautious about her offensive opportunities. She likes to take her time or look for a pass before trying it herself. In the few practices that BC has had so far, associate head coach Courtney Kennedy has been pushing Bizal to shoot more. Kennedy sees Bizal stepping into a much bigger role this season, even though last season she excelled. And when Keller leaves in 2018, it seems like Bizal will keep the D corps in good hands.
Erin Connolly sits behind the desk of Lizz Summers, the sports information director for women’s hockey. She had initially chosen one of the two seats in front of the desk, but switched upon realizing that this was probably her only chance to look authoritative in an interview. All it does is reflect the character she brings to the team. She’s the class clown, the prankster—but that doesn’t mean she’s serious about finally starting her college career.
As a redshirt, Connolly is uniquely positioned as a member of the sophomore class. She’s attended all the classes and taken all the notes, but she hasn’t sat for an exam. This experience gives her an edge. Instead of having to adjust to college play like the freshmen must do every year, she can hop right in. So far, the defenseman is doing well, stepping up to make her first block in her first game, against Minnesota Duluth.
Connolly considers herself like Bizal, in that she takes a middle-of-the-road approach to her defense—ready to go chase down the puck, but also to keep by the goalie at certain times. She believes that this will balance out the returners, who tend to be more aggressive.
A native of South Boston, Connolly is most excited to play a certain crosstown rival: Boston University. She wants to serve up a brutal beatdown to make sure the Terriers know what side she’s on. With the help of her childhood friends Bridget McCarthy and Caitrin Lonergan—a breakout star for the Eagles—it appears that BC will deliver on that promise.
One word to describe Ryan Little is gritty.
Not one to watch from the sidelines, she gets right into the mix, picking the puck out from the corners to get her shot. Hell, she’ll barrel into the goalie before she stops. It’s the same kind of play that people saw when Crowley played at Brown and in the Olympics. Little is also very fast. She controls the tempo of the game with her speed, and after being told by the upperclassmen to always move her feet, she has only enhanced her skill. Her classmate, Molly Slowe, is the same way. She wants to show her fight in the game, and if that means taking people down to eventually get the goal, so be it.
But those two don’t hog the puck. One of Little’s favorite things about playing with the Eagles is how well she connects with Tori Sullivan on passes.
A lot of people feel that this season, it would be difficult to replicate the run BC had last season. Though the Eagles have already faced their first loss, against Minnesota Duluth, Little is confident that losing the seniors is not as devastating as people think it is.
“I think we’re just as strong,” Little said.
Much of this can be attributed to the environment that this year’s team creates. Even though practices are still hard coming out of the summer, everyone is pushing each other through the pain. They encourage each other to get one more rep in or do one more drill. That’s the kind of hard work that wins championships.
Serena Sommerfield is the definition of the popular joke that you should “get you a girl who can do both.”
It has nothing to do with her personality—it seems that she is in a constant state of bubbly, happy to talk to whomever. On the ice, however, Sommerfield switches between forward and defenseman—whatever role that will benefit Crowley that game.
“I will go wherever they tell me,” Sommerfield said. “I enjoy being on the ice, so I will love going anywhere.”
Last season saw her at forward for the 28 games she played. This season, though things change very often, Sommerfield will be starting out as a defenseman. This might be due to a fix that Sommerfield made over the summer months—she bulked up. After the coaches said that their 5-foot-9 defenseman was too skinny, Sommerfield hit the weight room and did some off-ice training to better anticipate those hard hits. Now, she feels much more prepared. She just wants to do whatever she can to get her team back on the national stage.
It helps that Sommerfield plays smart. She knows when to chase down a potential play or when to pull back. When she does get the puck, she flies up the sides of the ice toward the net. During an exhibition game against the Cambridge Rivulettes, Sommerfield kept every defenseman off of her. Only when she reached the net could someone stop her. Sommerfield also doesn’t cower after an unsuccessful strike. Seconds later, she’s trying to find another play to be a part of.
The one thing that unites the sophomores as a unit is their attitude. All seven of them like to keep things light, whether it means having team dinners or cracking jokes in the locker room. They have a seriousness that can be turned off when the buzzer sounds. It makes them approachable to the freshmen, who they sympathize with—it wasn’t so long ago that they were in their shoes.
And of course, the biggest uniting force is one of any team: the chance of a national championship. There’s no pressure about it, but once the season progresses, it will get more stressful. Crowley just wants to have them take it game by game, like she always has.
But the sophomores have been there before. They know what it’s like to be in the stadium with hundreds of people chanting, “Let’s go, Eagles!” for the last time of the season, and for another team to be left holding the trophy. It’s a tough image to shake. It’s one that’s meaningful enough to prevent these sophomores from getting into a slump.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor