The Warwick girls’ hockey team will make the seventh playoff appearance in program history this weekend and it’s fair to say that the Lady Titans have never been more confident. If a 10-7 regular season wasn’t enough, the Titans beat perennial power Mount St. Charles in Saturday’s season finale, the program’s first-ever victory over the Mounties.
Warwick will play the same Mount team in the best-of-three Division I semifinals, which begin Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Adelard Arena in Woonsocket. Game two is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Thayer Arena. If necessary, game three would be Monday at Thayer, with the time to be announced.
The Titans can’t wait.
“Beating Mount will give us a lot of momentum going into playoffs,” said sophomore Abby Ellis. “I think we have a lot more confidence now because we know we can beat them.”
That hasn’t been the case in the past. The Titans played top-seeded Mount in the first round of the playoffs last year and were swept with a pair of 8-1 scores.
And beyond just the Mounties, the Titans have never been too confident heading into postseason match-ups. Warwick has made the playoffs in each of its seven years in the league but has never won a playoff game.
“Last year, we were like, ‘We don’t know if we can win,’” senior Julianna Mollo said. “Mount had a really strong team. This year, I think we have the team and the chance to compete.”
Warwick has steadily built that confidence all season, and the last month has put the team over the top. The Titans finished the season with six wins in their final eight games, and even the two losses were part of the positive trend. The Titans lost by a single goal in overtime to both La Salle and Mount.
Then on Saturday, the Titans got over the hump, rallying from a 1-0 deficit to beat the Mounties 4-1.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” Ellis said. “We were so excited.”
While La Salle won last year’s state title and is undefeated this season, Mount has been Rhode Island’s premier girls’ hockey program since the league was founded in 2002. In the 10 seasons preceding this one, the Mounties amassed a 135-11-3 regular season record and won six championships.
“It felt amazing to beat Mount,” Mollo said. “To beat a private school was just such a good feeling, and I think it gave them an eye opener that just because they’re a private school, they’re not better than us. We’ve come a long way and we’ve gotten a lot better.”
That really showed in the third period. Kelsey Holmes scored two goals, and Ellis and Emily Fox had one apiece as the Titans surged to what could easily be called the biggest win in program history.
“We changed a couple of things scheme-wise, and that definitely helped, but our energy level went from an eight to a 10,” assistant coach Tom McCormick said. “We just out-skated them, plain and simple in the third period.”
Now the Titans will try to do it again. Mount earned the No. 2 seed with a 13-4 record – its only other losses were to La Salle – and Warwick will be the No. 3 seed. La Salle is the No. 1 seed and will play No. 4 Burrillville/Ponaganset in the other semifinal.
Not only are the Titans confident going into their match-up, but the difference between Saturday’s first two periods and the third showed the team exactly what has to happen.
“We really need to stick to our gameplan,” said senior Casey McCormick. “I think we kind of got away from that in the first two periods and they ended up scoring on us. We came in the locker room in between the second and third and coach [Dave] Tibbetts said we really needed to get back to our gameplan. It worked. We scored four goals in one period. If we stick to that, I think we’re going to do well.”
At the offensive end, the Titans want to apply as much pressure as possible – both to create chances and to wear the Mounties out. Mount skates only two lines, and the Titans want to take advantage.
“We want to wear them out a little bit,” Tom McCormick said. “They’ve only got two lines they skate, and we can skate three. We want to take it to them early and often and keep our energy level high.”
The Titans are also reminding themselves that it won’t be easy. Mount goalie Arianna Tourtellot ranks second in the league with a 2.10 goals against average. In two prior meetings against Warwick this season, Tourtellot allowed just two goals total.
At the other end, Elisabeth Berard and Briana Castro are the leading point-getters in Division I. Castro is tops in goals with 22 and second in assists with 22, while Berard ranks second in goals with 20 and first in assists with 26. The Mounties also have two other players among the top seven in points.
“We’re confident, but also wary of what they’re capable of,” Tom McCormick said. “We’re not going to take anything for granted. They’re a very good team.”
Warwick will look to Ellis and Savannah Hersey to lead the charge defensively. Goalie Kayleen Murphy is also ready to go and is coming off some of her best performances of the season – a shutout of Smithfield/North Smithfield and the victory over Mount.
“She’s a heck of a competitor and she’s a great leader,” Tom McCormick said. “I wouldn’t want to have any goalie other than her, and I really mean that.”
The Titans feel the same way about their whole team – they really started to come together midway through the season, and they believe in themselves. The results speak for themselves.
Now it’s time for the next step.
“We have the ability,” Hersey said. “We just have to work hard.”