Battle-tested Wildcats have high hopes for 1AA playoffs

Facing a daunting schedule with ranked opponents at every curve, Dodge County girls hockey coach Jeremy Gunderson knew his team would take some lumps early in the season.

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Kasson-Mantorville's Bella Wagner breaks up ice against Hill-Murray during a game earlier this season. Wagner is one of the team's top scorers heading into Section 1AA play.

Facing a daunting schedule with ranked opponents at every curve, Dodge County girls hockey coach Jeremy Gunderson knew his team would take some lumps early in the season.

With a young lineup that regularly includes three eighth-graders, two freshman and four sophomores, the Wildcats had a 6-5-0 record through 11 games.

But the brutal schedule has paid off for Gunderson and the 13th-ranked Wildcats. They're playing their best hockey at the right time, and the team's progress and development has surpassed even Gunderson's expectations.

"I really didn't know what kind of team we would be this year, but the girls have really stepped up and could make a run deeper than I expected," Gunderson said. "We are peaking at the right time."

Ms. Hockey semifinalist Katie Robinson leads the Dodge County blue line into the postseason, and Bella Wagner, Molly Shelton, Maggie Wick and Teigan Petersen have all had great seasons up front. Goalie Gabby Suhr is a junior and also has had a strong season.


"We're a fast team and we have veteran defense led by (Robinson)," Gunderson said.

Thanks to the Wildcats' strong close to the regular season, they earned the No. 2 seed in the Section One, Class AA tournament, which starts Wednesday.

The Wildcats, who are 14-8-3, open against No. 7 Rochester Century (8-17-0) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Dodge County Ice Arena.

Lakeville South (19-5-2) is the top seed in the section, and the Cougars are ranked No. 12 in Class AA. They have a bye in the first round.

"South is very good, deep, but I think Dodge County is right there with them," John Marshall/Lourdes coach Bob Montrose said. "Really this year there's not that dominant, scary team that nobody wants to play."

Montrose and his Rockets (16-9-0) are the No. 5 seed and will hit to the road Wednesday to take on No. 4 Lakeville North (13-10-2).

North is a very strong defensive team, but the Rockets also have featured stellar defense this season. Both teams allow an average of less than three goals per game.

"I think we're the underdog, but we have a strong chance to win," Montrose said. "They like to pack it in, and they don't give you many clean looks at the net. That's kind of what they've always done. They play on that Olympic sheet, and they're good at it, keeping things in tight and not allowing chances."


Montrose anticipates a low-scoring battle.

"I think with dynamic players like (Rebecca Freiburger and Renee Saltness), we'll hope to get a few good looks and take advantage of that," Montrose said.

Rochester Mayo (9-16-0) received the No. 6 seed and will travel to No. 3 Farmington (14-8-3) on Wednesday night.

Mayo is another team playing its best hockey at the end of the season.

"I like the way we are playing and I'm happy with our matchup against Farmington," Mayo coach Mike McCormack said. "We need to play the way we have for most of January, while kicking up our intensity but staying out of the penalty box."

In Section 1A, Northfield secured the No. 1 seed thanks to two regular-season wins over No. 2-seeded Red Wing.

The Raiders (16-9-0) open against No. 8 Winona (1-24-1) on Wednesday, while Red Wing (16-8-1) hosts No. 7 Albert Lea (3-20-2).

Red Wing forward Taylor Heise is one of the top players in the state, and she scored 74 points (41 goals, 33 assists) during the regular season. The Wingers also two solid goalies and another high-flying forward in Maddy Hardyman.


The other local team in Section 1A is Austin, which received the No. 5 seed and will travel to No. 4 Faribault (17-6-2) on Wednesday. The Packers (14-11-0) and Falcons split during the regular season.

Owatonna (17-8-0) is the No. 3 seed and hosts No. 6 Waseca (14-10-1).

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