Dodge County goalie traveled many miles during varsity career
KASSON — Anna Hunter has been driven for a long time to be a high school hockey player: about 60 miles round-trip every day during the season for the last five years.
"It's a pretty long drive," said Hunter, a Hayfield High School senior who has been the starting goalie for the Dodge County girls hockey team since she was an eighth-grader.
In the earlier years it was up to Anna's parents, Mark and Kate Hunter, to dutifully transport her from their home in Brownsdale to practices and home games at Four Seasons Arena in Kasson.
"I really needed my parents' support to play hockey, especially since we live a half-hour away from the rink," she confirmed, appreciatively. "I don't think they've missed a game this year. They haven't missed many since I've been playing, and I started in first grade."
Hunter has driven herself in recent years to become one of the best high school goalies in Minnesota, according to Dodge County coach Jeremy Gunderson.
Hunter's great goaltending is a key reason Dodge County is in the Section 1AA Championship game for the first time against top seed Lakeville North tonight in Owatonna.
Gunderson nominated Hunter for Let's Play Hockey's Senior Goalie of the Year Award, among other honors, for her part in Dodge County's fifth consecutive winning season and second straight with 20 wins.
"Anna's two biggest attributes are intelligence and speed," said Gunderson, a 1992 John Marshall graduate and former UMD hockey player who has been Dodge County's head girls coach for seven seasons.
"She's lanky and fast in goal, and she's a 4.0 student in school," he said. "Very smart."
"Goaltending is a lot harder than people think; you have a lot of responsibility," Hunter said. "But I always look at it that there are five other players besides me that the puck has to get through."
Hunter isn't the only girl who travels some distance to play for the Dodge County Wildcats. The team has been in existence for 14 seasons and draw players from more than a half-dozen school districts in the area.
The bulk of the team has always been from Kasson-Mantorville, but this team includes players from Blooming Prairie (one), Byron (seven), Dover-Eyota (two), Hayfield (three), Pine Island (one) and Zumbrota-Mazeppa (two).
"I was the only girl from Hayfield for a long time, but now there are two others (ninth-grader Teigen Petersen and seventh-grader Katrina Thoe), so it's getting more popular," said Hunter, who followed her older brother Paul into hockey.
Despite coming from so many different schools, or perhaps because of it, Hunter said team chemistry has always been great with the Wildcats. She and forward Lydia Wagner, from Zumbrota-Mazeppa, are co-captains and the only seniors.
Gunderson describes Hunter as a soft-spoken leader. She was missed when was sidelined for seven games at midseason with bone bruising on her tibia, possibly the result of repeatedly flopping down on the leg to block shots.
Hunter was on crutches for a few weeks, but she has been back since early January and said she's over it. Dodge County's only losses since her return were a pair of two-goal defeats to Blake and Breck, which are ranked No. 2 and No. 5 in the state Class A poll.
"Anna leads by example; she's the Mother Hen of the locker room," Gunderson said. "We realized how much we relied on her when she was out. We had to change our style of play a bit."
Hunter said she won't be surprised if Dodge County extends its season into the state tournament. She's not in a rush to end her high school career.
Hunter and Wagner are both planning to extend their hockey careers and their time as teammates at Gustavus Adolphus College.
"I think it'll be pretty sad for me; it will definitely be different," she said. "Hopefully I will get to play through college and then, who knows? Maybe coaching one day.
"I still have that drive."