CCYHA nationals U-19

The first sign that things would be different came what has to feel like a lifetime ago.

For the CCYHA Under-19 girls team, the first tournament of the year came in Cincinnati back in late September and early October, and the Blue Jackets squad went 5-0 to capture the event’s championship.

There was a long way to go in the season, but for a squad that has been building and building, that early-season success served as a launching pad of sorts, according to assistant coach and CCHYA girls hockey coordinator Emily Moersdorf.

“Most of these girls have been playing with us since they were 13 or 14 and had never won a tournament before,” Moersdorf said. “One of them came up to me and said, ‘You do know that I’ve never won a tournament.’ I said, ‘I guess I never realized.’

“And this year, we’ve won five tournaments, going from 0 to 100 essentially.”

It’s been a fun ride, and it’s not over. In early March, the CCHYA squad became one of two from the Mid-Am Girls U-19 Tier II district to qualify for the USA Hockey National Championships, making the team the first Central Ohio girls' squad in 11 years to advance that far.

The team will play three preliminary games and then see where the chips fall from there, with play beginning Wednesday morning at 11 a.m. against the New Jersey Bandits.

“Honestly, it’s like a dream come true for everybody,” forward Avery Lemmerbrock said. “My brother (Connor) had the opportunity to go to USA High School Nationals in 2021 and it was so much fun just to be there as a spectator. I’m even more excited to be able to go and play in it myself. We’ve worked so hard all year long, and I think everybody has stepped it up at this point and we definitely earned our spot there.”

The Blue Jackets squad had success throughout the season, but the team really started to believe great things were possible in early February when it went to a tournament hosted by the Nashville Predators featuring teams from around the country and came away with the victory.

By the time the Mid-Am district tournament came around in early March, hosted here in Columbus at the OhioHealth Chillers, the team had started to believe Nationals were a possibility. That belief was strengthened in the opening game against the Armstrong Arrows, a team from the Pittsburgh area, as the Blue Jackets won that contest by a 3-2 score in overtime.

“That was our biggest threat of the weekend, and when we got that goal in overtime, I literally started bawling,” defenseman Alaina Prall said. “That was probably like the most exciting moment ever. If you would have told me four years ago that we would be going to nationals, I’d say you’re crazy.”

The Blue Jackets continued their strong play from there and by the end of the district tournament had their ticket punched for this week’s play in East Lansing, Mich.

This year’s squad is led by standouts Lemmerbrock, Regan Davies, Addison Taylert and Jenna Day up front, as well as defensemen Prall, Nalja Hatem and Sophia Bistransin. Goalies Claire Hill and Poppy Worsley are in net, while other members of the squad are forwards Cailyn Cupp, Sydney Meek, Ava Buczek, Bella Talebi, Caroline Krueck, Sarah Thomas and Macy Williams as well as defensemen Peyton Fulk, Jenna Weaver and Gabbi Lingel.

So what’s been the secret sauce? Moersdorf pointed to the hiring of a new head coach, former Ohio State coach John Markell, and noted that his dedication to the squad had made a difference. In addition, the burgeoning depth of talent in Central Ohio girls’ hockey has allowed the CCHYA squad to stick together for the past couple of years, and two of the girls – Taylert and Hatem – are headed to Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania to continue their careers at the NCAA D-III level.

“To have kids that are committed to the program and want to play for us and see the growth and progress of girls hockey in Columbus is the reason why we’re in the spot that we’re at,” Moersdorf said. “We used to chase other kids and try to get them to stay, and now we don’t have to.”

And with that, the ability to compete at a championship level for Central Ohio girls’ programs is growing. This year’s CCHYA U-19 squad is proof of it, as this group started with a dream and now it’s a reality thanks to hard work and a lot of chemistry.

“As we kept going to tournaments and we kept playing games, as we continued to win, the confidence definitely started to build,” Prall said. “We became a lot closer. With travel hockey, we are literally together all of the time during those tournaments. We’re doing everything with each other for like three straight days. It definitely brings us together.”

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