DII women eager to clinch nationals bid by winning DVCHC tournament

From Liberty Club Sports

By Ted Allen


The Lady Flames have four offensive lines, five defensemen, and three goalies ready to take the ice for a U19 tournament on Sept. 16-17.

Liberty University’s ACHA Division II women’s hockey team will rejoin the Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference (DVCHC) for the 2023-24 season, giving the Lady Flames an opportunity to contend for an automatic bid to the March 12-16 ACHA Division II National Championships in St. Louis by winning the DVCHC Tournament.

Liberty competed as an independent last season after being in the DVCHC in 2021-22 and spending the previous two seasons in College Hockey East.

“We’ll see how it turns out,” Lady Flames Head Coach Rena Leone said of the DVCHC tournament set for Feb. 24-25 in Harrington, Del. “Otherwise, we will have to be in the top five in the final Southeast Region rankings. Last year, we were in the fifth spot, but we got bumped due to an autobid from the CHE.”

That exclusion left Leone and many of her players with a sense of unfinished business, which they plan to take care of this season.

“We’re going to make a splash when we come out because we’re not going to be timid this year,” Leone said. “I’m not going to say we’re going for blood, but we’re going to let it all out on the ice every single game.”

To get pumped up for the season, which starts with a U19 showcase with exhibition games at the LaHaye Ice Center against the Junior Hurricanes on Sept. 16 and the Armstrong (Pa.) Arrows, and York (Pa.) Devils on Sept. 17, the Lady Flames held preseason strength & conditioning sessions with Club Sports Associate Director of Sports Performance Jared Lovelace and Rebekah Kemper, a former Lady Flames women’s wrestler. They started practices last week and had their first combined practice and workout session on Wednesday.

Liberty’s strength of schedule this season will be comparable if not better than last year, which should help it in the regional rankings.

“We’re going to be playing the majority of the same teams we played last year, only adding Lawrence Tech (Feb. 9-10 at home) and the University of Maryland (Oct. 7-8) to our schedule that we haven’t played in the past,” Leone said, noting that the Lady Flames will play fellow DVCHC opponents Rowan and the Naval Academy four times, Delaware and Maryland twice, and Villanova once.

Liberty will open ACHA play with a home series against Rowan on Sept. 29-30 at 1:15 p.m. The Lady Flames will travel to New Kensington, Pa., near Pittsburgh for a Nov. 3-5 showcase that they will host, with games against Mercyhurst, Buffalo, and West Virginia, former CHE foes.

The Lady Flames return 15 players from last season’s squad, which finished 17-7-2, and have added six newcomers, including five recruits and one walk-on during last week’s tryouts.

Their top four returning scorers are sophomore center Isabel “Izzy” Crossman, sophomore defenseman Kate Walhof, junior forward Isabel “Bella” Gracia, and junior defenseman Madison Natter.

The Lady Flames only graduated defenseman Sarah LaPorte and will have a rotation of four forward lines, five defensemen, and three goalies — sophomore Abigail Hodsden, freshman Abby Manzewitsch, and senior Kylie Mebs, who played two and a half seasons on the Lady Flames’ Division I team before an injury sidelined her. She returned to action on the DII squad to start the spring semester.

“(Offensively) I think we’re going to be very evenly spread out, skill-wise,” Leone said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a standout first, second, or third line. We’re going to have a good consistent four lines with a good mixture of strength on each one.”

Crossman will be joined by senior right wing Hunter DiGrazia and freshman Cora Williams on one line and Gracia will be reunited with sophomore forward Briley Biddell and junior center Madison Gaddy.

The Lady Flames’ spiritual leaders will be Crossman, graduate defenseman Brynley Anderson, and senior Alex Ritter, who formerly played goalie but will be a skater this season.

Leone is complemented by Assistant Coaches Holly Turner, Kevin Serapiglia, and Ian Dutkus, who have coached together for the past three seasons.

“Everyone’s getting along really well and the team chemistry is pretty high,” Leone said. “Morale is high as well, so it’s a great start to the new semester. It’s going to be a good season.”

(Originally published at https://libertyclubsports.com/news/2023/8/30/womens-d2-hockey-dii-women-eager-to-clinch-nationals-bid-by-winning-dvchc-tournament)