These girls got game
Move over boys, there is plenty of ice for the girls, too!
Hockey, which traditionally has been only a boys’ sport, continues to see a rise in girls’ participation, leading to sanctioned leagues for girls.
Presently, Rugby and Bottineau’s hockey programs have combined to field Girls 19 and Under and 12 and Under teams that play in the N.D. Amateur Hockey Association.
“I think it’s great we have started a program,’ said Ben Kuhnhenn, who coaches the 19U Rugby-Bottineau team. “They enjoy playing as much as the boys.”
Kuhnhenn, who played hockey during his youth, and has coached at nearly every level in the Rugby program, was approached a few years ago to help establish a girls’ program.
There was another incentive to coach, a personal one.
“I’ve got a young daughter and I want her to have the option to play hockey,’ he said.
Over the years there has been a handful of girls who have played youth hockey alongside boys, moving up the levels from ter-mites, mites and squirts. However, most of them don’t continue once they reach peewees, bantams and high school, since those levels feature checking.
Girls’ hockey does not allow checking. So the hockey association wanted to develop a girls’ program to allow those players to continue the sport in their teenage years.
For the past two years Rugby has offered a girls’ recreation program which focused mostly on building the fundamentals through practices. A handful of scrimmages were also held.
This is the first year Rugby and Bottineau’s programs have joined to form a girls’ Age 19U and 12U team and play in a league.
“The girls are excited about getting the chance to play more games,’ Kuhnhenn said.
Rugby-Bottineau plays in a league which features teams from Watford City, Bismarck, Crosby, Sidney, Mont., Glasgow, Mont. and Miles City, Mont. The team will play 28 games.
So far the team has posted a 5-4 mark in the league and 9-8 overall, according to Kuhnhenn.
Senior Shelby Hageness is one of a handful from Rugby on the 19U team. She’s been on skates ever since she was just a few years-old, but it’s been just the past few year where she’s really gottem interested in playing the sport.
“I like skating and the competition that comes with hockey,’ she said. “It’s fun this year to play more games.”
Hockey is a family affair for Shelby’s family as her brother Nigel play on Rugby-Bottineau’s bantam team, her father, Todd, coaches; and her mother, Sandy, is involved in the association.
Hageness said what’s been the biggest challenge is understanding the intricacies of the game, knowing where to be positioned all the time. “Things happen so fast on the ice,’ she adds.
Like Shelby, Jordan McGath is also a senior on the 19U team. Unlike Shelby, Jordan doesn’t have a hockey background in her family.
McGath moved here from Devils Lake and said her siblings were interested in basketball.
So what drew her to hockey?
“I just liked the game,’ she said. “It’s fun to play.”
This is her third year playing hockey and her skills are improving, although she says skating backwards is still a challenge.
Rugby eighth grader Carleen Shively plays for both the Rugby-Bottineau 19U and 12U teams. She’s been playing hockey ever since she was seven and played one season of peewee-level with the boys.
Shively said there is a noticeable jump in the pace of the game playing with the older girls, but her strong skating skills have enabled her to fit right in.
Her biggest challenge is finishing scoring plays. “It’s hard to place the shot past the goalie,’ Shively said.
In addition, Rugby’s Allison Leer, Emily Stier and ShaNya Lowman are also playing in the girls’ programs. A majority of the players do come from Bottineau.
The players practice three times during the weekdays with games on the weekends. Kuhnhenn said many have picked up the fundamentals, such as skating, passing, and shooting, quickly. The hardest part of coaching is getting the players to understand positioning and anticipating where the play will go.
“And that just takes time,’ he said. “They need to play more games to grasp those things.”
One thing for certain is the girls who are playing are dedicated. “They are very coachable and willing to learn,’ he added.
And while winning is nice, the goal of the program is already achieved. And that is giving girls an opportunity to play a sport many around here are passionate about.
“It’s a great sport and to see them out there is great,’ Kuhnhenn said.
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