Mount St. Charles enjoys the good fortune of returning its top line led by, from left, Briana Castro, Alisha Sleboda and Elizabeth Berard. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN.
Tony DiLorenzo has been a member of the coaching staff at Mount St. Charles for nearly a decade, and even he had a difficult time remembering the last time the Mounties fielded a girlsâ€™ hockey team as small in numbers as the squad they have this winter.
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After graduating one of their best lines and their four top defensemen and also losing the services of their starting goalie to prep school, the Mounties find themselves with only 15 players and very little depth.
Add to the fact that the Emma Division promises to be a tough league from top to bottom, and you can see that this season has the makings of being a challenging one.
But can the Mounties add another chapter to their decade-long dominance in the state? In their 10 seasons as a varsity squad, they boast a 135-11-3 regular-season record and have been to the state finals nine times, winning six championships along the way.
â€śWeâ€™re going to have to work hard for it,â€ť said DiLorenzo, who takes over this winter as the Mountiesâ€™ head coach after serving the last seven as an assistant. â€śItâ€™s not going to be easy. Staminaâ€™s going to be a key. We skate hard frequently during practice, and itâ€™s been a culture change for them. We have a lot of work to do, so weâ€™ll see what happens.â€ť
Despite having just 15 players, DiLorenzo has nine forwards that make up his three lines, five defensemen, and just one goaltender, sophomore Ari Tourtellot.
The first line should be familiar to Mount fans, because it was one that provided plenty of offensive pop. Junior Briana Castro, an All-State pick last season, was third in the state in scoring last season with 12 goals and 18 assists. Sophomore Elizabeth Berard contributed 11 goals and 14 assists, and senior Alisha Sleboda also lit the lamp 11 times.
Senior Emily Miller and junior Jordan Duncan lead the defensemen, and sophomore Bri Luciani is making the move from forward to defense to help bolster that group.
In terms of the state of affairs in the division, which will see each team battle each other three times during the regular season, DiLorenzo likes defending champion La Salle as a preseason favorite, but also thinks the rest of the division isnâ€™t far behind the Rams.
â€śThe five teams in this division are all going to be very good,â€ť offered DiLorenzo, whose team lost to the Rams in three close games in last yearâ€™s title series. â€śItâ€™s going to be very level. Anybodyâ€™s going to be able to beat anybody this season.â€ť
Another team thatâ€™s going to be in mix, added DiLorenzo, is the Burrillville/Ponaganset co-op team, which lost in the Division II title series to the Barrington/Mount Hope co-op team last season, but returns a strong cast from that squad and has over 20 players on its varsity roster.
Senior captain and defenseman Jackie Keable and senior goaltender Brittney Bebeau (a 1.91 goals-against-average and .919 save percentage last winter) are two of the Broncosâ€™ top upperclassmen, and sophomore center Emily Cardon (10 goals) is also back to supply some scoring punch.
Senior Kali Kut, one of eight Ponaganset players in the program, is also returning, as is sophomore forward Maggie Reid.
In the DeCosta Division, which is the equivalent of Division II, second-year Lincoln is back with a 15-player roster, 10 of which have a full seasonâ€™s worth of varsity experience and two that are coming over from nearby Cumberland, freshmen Kathryn Cunningham and Cassidy Simanski.
The Lions, who went 2-14 in their inaugural season, bring back two of their most potent players in senior captain Jean Bray (13 goals, 12 assists) and sophomore Cassidy DiPaola (13 goals, 6 assists).
Sophomore Marissa Mancini also gave the Lionsâ€™ first line some punch with nine assists, junior Lauren Hervieux returns to anchor the defense, and senior Ashley Devolve is back between the pipes.
North Smithfield, which went 7-8-1 despite having just 13 players on its roster, has now formed a co-op with Smithfield, which was winless last season, and like the Northmen, lost a good core of its team to graduation. Ten N.S. players and seven Smithfield players make up this group.
Seniors Samantha Archambault and Courtney Sweeney and freshman Siobhan Kiernan are three of the North Smithfield players who will be counted on for big contributions.