It may be hard to remember after 13 state-tournament appearances for Alexandria girls hockey, but this program did not jump right onto the scene with a standard of winning.
Things changed when a group of talented 8th-graders came into the varsity program in 2004. Five years later, that group left having put the Cardinals squarely on the map after five straight state tournament appearances and a 2008 Class A state title.
“I think they had already created the path for girls hockey in Alexandria, but that championship just put the cherry on top,” former Alexandria head coach coach Mitch Loch said. “Everybody will remember that run, and they need to be remembered. They set the tone for success for this program that’s still going today.”
A look back on that 2007-08 season that finished with a 2-1 win over Breck in the state title game can be seen in the June 24 issue of the Echo Press. Due to space, some of the conversation with Loch and former Herb Brooks Award winners Ashley Holmes and Abby (Williams) Areshenko did not fit into that story. Here is more from all three as they looked back on a season and championship they won’t ever forget.
Q: That 2007-08 team had so many weapons. When you think of the talent with that group, what stands out?
MITCH LOCH: With that group of seniors in 2008, I will go on record and say we could have probably won the AA tournament too. We made a schedule that had Section 8AA opponents in it, and we beat everybody on our schedule that came out of 8AA. We scrimmaged the champion that year of AA, which was Eden Prairie, and you essentially don’t keep score in scrimmages, but we did tie them. We were right there with anybody in the state.
Q: What stands out to you about that group of players as a whole?
MITCH LOCH: The part that we got to see as coaches was their character was top notch. You don’t always get to see that from the outside, but they were proud to represent our community and our school, and they did it in the best way possible.
When we came back, we got a couple notes. We got a letter from the athletic director that ran the tournament down below the Xcel just saying how classy our girls were. As an adult and a coach, that’s what really makes you smile.
Q: What was the mood like in the locker room before that state title game against Breck?
ABBY (WILLIAMS) ARESHENKO: I remember we stayed at the hotel across the street, but with school regulations, we had to take the bus there. I just remember riding the bus, and we always sang a song before games.
Everybody was just having a great time on the bus there. I think everyone was calm and trying to enjoy the moment. This was the last game for a lot of us together. We really wanted to enjoy every moment of it.
Q: Kathryn DelZoppo scored to break a scoreless tie in the second period. What did getting that first goal do for this group?
ABBY ARESHENKO: Some relief. I think it gave us some more confidence, just knowing we could be up on a team like that. They were such a great team, and they had a couple really great players. To get a lead on that team was just huge. It allowed us to take a little breath and know we can win this game. We had Danielle in the net, who was just out of her mind in that tournament. Anytime you got a lead, you felt good because she was just so good.
Q: Danielle Justice had so many big stops and was great down the stretch in the hectic final minutes of the title game. What do you remember about her performance?
MITCH LOCH: You knew she was going to make the first save without a doubt. If they happened to get a second shot or rebound, which was very rare because she controlled things so well, she was going to make that save too. She was just tremendous during that run.
Q: This program had accomplished so much leading into the 2007-08 season except make a long state tournament run. What do you think changed specifically that year?
ASHLEY HOLMES: We were just so focused on what we wanted. We were sick of making it to the tournament and not getting to that championship game. To hold everyone accountable and make sure we played our absolute best as a whole group all year was so important to us. Who knows if we hadn’t been through those four previous years of in essence failing, would that have forced us to have the year and tournament that we did?
You hope your legacy will be remembered even if you didn’t win the championship, but who’s to say you would if it wasn’t for that championship? Definitely so happy we did, and it brings back so many great memories.
Q: What kind of confidence did that group of players have entering the 2007-08 season?
ASHLEY HOLMES: We had a group of super fans, and I remember they told us before the season, ‘We already booked our hotel for the state tournament this year.’ We kind of laughed, but that was the expectation our senior year.
We were going to make it to the state tournament and we were going to have a run. Not only do I think we as a team and coaching staff believed we could do it that year, but I think our families, friends and fans believed the same in us. That’s powerful to have that much weight and support behind you. You can do amazing things when you have that.