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Coming back home

Former Alexandria and University of North Dakota hockey player Ashley Secord-Holmes works with the current Cardinal girls’ hockey players during a practice on November 12. Secord-Holmes is back in Aleaxndria as an assistant coach for the Cardinals this year. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

Ashley Secord-Holmes has achieved most of the goals that are in young hockey players’ dreams, winning a state championship and playing Division I hockey at a successful college program.

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But now that her college days are over, Secord-Holmes is embarking on a new goal to one day become a successful collegiate hockey coach. The first step was returning home to become an assistant coach in the Alexandria girls’ hockey program.

“It was a privilege really, just to play Division I college hockey,” Secord-Holmes said. “Not a lot of girls get to do that.”

During Secord-Holmes’ four years playing for the University of North Dakota, the team improved from the bottom of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to being one of the top-ranked teams in the country. Big-time recruits from Europe and a transfer from twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux helped UND improve through her four seasons on the team. In her final two years, UND was often ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation.

“Once you got to that elite level, playing against the Gophers and winning in their own (building) and sweeping them, stuff like that, it’s experiences that you’ll never forget,” Secord-Holmes said.

After graduating from UND in May, Secord-Holmes moved back to Miltona to live with her family. Originally a biology major with aspirations to attend medical school, Secord-Holmes is now focused on starting a career in coaching. And her first step has started this season as an assistant coach of the team she won a state title with in 2008.

Secord-Holmes was part of a class of girls at Jefferson High School who played in a state tournament every year from eighth grade to graduation. Finally, the Cardinals brought home the 2008 Class A state title in their senior year. That year, nearly the entire roster had experience playing at state, and their progression through the years allowed them to finish on top.

“We were there to take care of business,” Secord-Holmes said. “That’s exactly what we did.”

Growing up in Alexandria, Secord-Holmes looked up to other high school players as they played for Alexandria. Having the chance to finally play on the varsity team herself and take home a state title was something she will never forget.

“To have so much pride and wear the Cardinal jersey, and just to represent your city and to win something like that and have the community rally around you is something that I’ll never forget,” Secord-Holmes said.

Now that she has become an assistant at JHS, she wants to help players achieve the same level of success.

Head coach Blair Hovel, who was an assistant coach when Secord-Holmes was playing for the Cardinals, said she has been helpful this season as an assistant on his staff. When he is late for a practice or cannot make one, Secord-Holmes will often run practices for him. She also helps set the defensive pairs for the Cardinals on game days.

“The girls have definitely accepted her and know that she’s not going to just be their friend,” Hovel said. “She is going to work them hard and wants to push them to be able to have the same results she had her senior year, which was a state championship team.”

One challenge that Secord-Holmes has encountered is finding the best way to teach players the game of hockey. Coaches often have to walk a fine line between pushing players to their maximum and being someone who yells too often to be effective.

“I think the biggest thing at high school is you have to push them to a next level,” Secord-Holmes said. “A lot of times girls will get complacent with where they are and they don’t know they have another level because they don’t push themselves even close to getting there.”

Secord-Holmes has helped Hovel develop some new strategies for the team as well, including on the power play. The Cardinals use an umbrella formation to move the puck on the power play, but they will switch to a two-person cycle in the corner if the opponents figure out how to stop defensemen from getting opportunities.

Senior winger Melissa Drown said Secord-Holmes is not afraid to tell a player when they are doing something wrong.

“She corrects us right away and gets us going in the right direction without worrying about hurting our feelings,” she said. “She knows what it’s like to be on the other side of it.”

The players said they enjoy having a coach that has successfully played at the college level. Often she is not afraid to push them hard at practice.

“She actually makes up a lot of good drills for us, and kind of tells us what we need to work on,” senior center Taylor Ellingson said. “It works really well.”

One of Secord-Holmes’ long term goals is to give the Cardinals an opportunity to bring home a state title. But for now, she is focused on helping them improve consistently throughout the season.

“Obviously, I want the girls to be successful, because that’s more fun,” Secord-Holmes said. “But I think you have to take it small, game-by-game, week-by-week.”

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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