The Warwick girls’ co-op hockey program has never won a playoff series. Then again, the Lady Titans have also never been the favorites before.
But with the second part of that equation changing this weekend as No. 2 seed Warwick will take on No. 3 seed Bay View in the state semifinals, the Lady Titans are in prime position to change the first part as well.
Wearing t-shirts with the words “Why Not Us?” printed on them Tuesday, the Titans took a day off from the ice to go bowling as a team, and confidence was running high. Warwick enters the postseason on a four-game winning streak and with the most complete roster it’s ever had.
“We have good confidence going into the playoffs,” said junior defenseman Abby Ellis. “We’ve been on a winning streak, and I don’t think any of us would be satisfied if we didn’t continue that.”
This past weekend, Warwick finished off the best regular season in program history, ending up 13-4 with 26 points. That was just one point behind top-seeded La Salle, which went 13-3-0-1 to end up with 27 points.
And while finishing in first place in the regular season was a goal of Warwick’s, coming in second might actually have been a plus. In the other semifinal, La Salle is playing No. 4 Burrillville/Ponaganset, a team that Warwick beat twice in the regular season but also lost to once.
Against Bay View, the Lady Titans are undefeated, winning three times, including a 5-0 victory in their most recent meeting on Feb. 12. Warwick also has wins of 2-1 and 5-3 in the series.
Still, Warwick is being careful not to overlook the Bengals, who went 10-6-0-1 in the regular season and have a win over La Salle to their name. They boast standout senior goaltender Britney Evangelista and have allowed only 42 goals on the season.
“Bay View is a good team,” said Warwick head coach Dave Tibbetts. “They’re well-coached. They’re right behind us in the standings, so we have a challenge in front of us. But the kids are really excited and we’re going to take it one period at a time and see what happens.”
But while giving Bay View its due, Warwick also has well-earned confidence. Right now, it’s playing perhaps its best hockey of the season.
Warwick out-scored its opponents 12-3 over its four-game winning streak that saw it beat three playoff teams, with freshman goaltender Gabriella Dicomitis earning two shutouts during that span.
“We have great confidence right now,” sophomore Madison Balutowski said. “I think it’s really growing in practice and stuff. I think these last couple weeks, with all the wins building up, our confidence is even higher. We’re really ready for these playoffs.”
That’s a far cry from the three games prior, when the Lady Titans were stuck in a tough stretch. They lost to Barrington 3-0, then beat Mount St. Charles 6-4 before falling 4-2 to La Salle. The four goals Warwick surrendered in each of those last two games were the most it gave up in any in-state game this season.
It was a wake-up call.
“We realized what was going on, and every team goes through it, especially a girls’ high school hockey team,” Tibbetts said. “We needed to maintain the high level of intensity to beat these teams on a regular basis.”
It also served as motivation to work harder, and the argument can be made that the Lady Titans are better for going through a difficult stretch than they would be otherwise.
“Now that we’re at the end of the season, everything has started to come back together,” Balutowski said. “Everything we had to work on is working now and everything that was already working is perfect.”
The proof is in the product Warwick has put out. Balutowski is the state’s leading scorer with 30 goals and its leading point-getter with 41.
Sophomore Kelsey Holmes – a linemate of Balutowski’s – is seventh in the state with 31 points, including 21 assists. Ellis, the team’s top defenseman, has 10 goals and 14 assists.
But it doesn’t stop there. Sophomore Mariana Brawn has teamed with Balutowski and Holmes to form one of the most formidable lines in the state, and the lines of Paula Cavanagh, Jaime Given and either Samia Pratt or Meagan Sullivan and Victoria LaFazia, Makenzie Driscoll and Katherine Roberti have contributed quite a bit. Warwick has scored the second-most goals in the state with 71.
“We definitely have one of the top scoring lines,” Tibbetts said. “The rest of our kids, they can score too but they’ve taken more of a defensive role.”
Sophomore Caroline Henn has been a valuable commodity all over the ice, but she’s currently playing defense, with Natasha Savage and Savannah Hersey playing in the back as well. Those three, plus Ellis and the play of Dicomitis and Erin Vermilye between the pipes are big reasons why Warwick has allowed a state-low 31 goals.
With a team-wide emphasis, Savage leads the team with 48 blocked shots. Dicomitis leads the state with a 1.91 goals against average, and she’s allowed just 22 goals in her 12 games played.
“We’ve been playing well, especially defensively,” Tibbetts said. “Our goals against has been dropping at the end of the season, which is what we try to do every year.”
But the playoffs are a different story, with the margin for error down to practically nothing. Last season, Warwick was playing well, went 10-5-0-2 and grabbed the No. 3 seed, only to get swept out of the playoffs by Mount St. Charles.
There’s no better reminder than the program’s history. For all its recent success, Warwick is 0-for-7 in playoff series as a program and has never even won a postseason game.
This season presents the best chance the Lady Titans have ever had at advancing and playing for a state championship.
“In the past we’ve always been looking from the bottom up at these other teams,” Tibbetts said. “This year, with the way we went through our division, it’s given them the confidence that we definitely belong and they can play with anybody in the state.”
Game one of the best-of-three series is scheduled for Friday night at Thayer Arena at 7 p.m., with game two slated for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Burrillville’s Levy Rink. A third game, if necessary, would be on Monday, with the time and venue still to be determined.
It’s chance for Warwick to make history.
“They’re going to come out hard for us, so we’ve got to be above them,” Henn said.
The Lady Titans hope it’s the start of journey that ends with a championship.
“This year, even from preseason we were like, ‘We’re going to win the championship this year,’” Ellis said. “Now that we’ve gotten this far, it’s awesome and that’s all we have to strive for.”