Last season, the state’s girls’ hockey league tried something different with its alignment and playoff structure. Teams played in two sub-divisions and two different championships were up for grabs, but when it came time for seeding, the best team from the lower sub-division could move into the top-division playoffs if it was in the overall top four.
That happened to the Warwick co-op team, which went 11-5 in the regular season. The Lady Titans would have been the favorite for the DeCosta Division championship, but they competed in the Emma Division playoffs instead and lost in the first round.
It was a strange situation, but the Lady Titans didn’t seem to mind testing themselves against the state’s best teams.
A year later, they’re eager to test themselves again – and they won’t just be trying to crash the party.
The Warwick girls’ hockey team is now a Division I program.
“It’s a challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it,” said head coach Dave Tibbetts. “It’s something we wanted to do to try and build the program up. We have some very good players coming back and we knew we had a lot of freshmen coming in. I think we can be a very competitive Division I program.”
Ten teams will play girls’ hockey this winter, and they’ll be split evenly between Division I and D-II. Warwick will join Bay View, Burrillville, La Salle and Mount St. Charles in the top division. Barrington, Cranston, Lincoln, South County and a new co-op between Smithfield and North Smithfield will play in D-II.
The Lady Titans know they’ll be in for a challenge – they’ll play all the D-I teams three times and the D-II teams just once – but they won’t back down from it for one second.
“The whole team is really excited,” Tibbetts said. “Right from sign-ups, they’ve just been very enthusiastic. They’re all hockey players, and they’re really eager to get going.”
Girls’ hockey in Warwick has been growing steadily for years. The move to Division I and the presence of nine freshmen on the roster may signal the next step.
“My first year, most of the girls only had a year or two of hockey experience,” Tibbetts said. “Now, most of the freshmen coming in have played a lot before and they consider themselves hockey players. They’ve been chomping at the bit to play high school hockey.”
That new generation of hockey players should make Warwick a competitive Division I program in the future. With a host of veterans leading this year’s team, Warwick is focused on the present, too.
The Lady Titans believe they can be competitive now.
“We’re cautious, but we’re optimistic,” Tibbetts said.
Leading the charge will be senior Emily Fox, who earned second-team All-State honors last season after tying for the state scoring title. Fox tallied 21 goals and dished out 16 assists.
It’ll be a challenge for her to replicate those numbers with so many games against tougher competition, but she should still be one of the top players in the state.
“She’s going to be challenged more, so I don’t expect her to put up as many points,” Tibbetts said. “But she’s one of the top forwards in the state.”
Fox is expected to be joined on the top line by senior Casey McCormick, who was Warwick’s third-leading scorer last year with 11 goals and four assists. Senior Julianna Mollo, who had three goals and five assists last season, rounds out that line.
“They’ve been together for a couple of years now, and I think they’re going to do really well,” Tibbetts said.
Junior Jaime Given returns to anchor the second line, and she’ll be joined by two impact newcomers – freshmen Madison Balutowski and Kelsey Holmes. Both freshmen have played a lot of hockey and should step right in without a problem.
At this point, the third line features two more freshmen – Victoria LaFazia and Jennah Sequeira – along with junior Katherine Roberti. Junior Ashley Cotrone and freshman Abigayle Given and Samia Pratt are on the fourth line and pushing for an opportunity to move up.
The top three lines will get most of the minutes, and they’ll give the Titans depth that even some of the powerhouse teams don’t have.
“We can play three lines without a problem,” Tibbetts said. “Our top two lines can score at any time, and our third line is really doing a nice job. I think they’re going to hold their own. It’s going to be good to be able to roll out those three lines.”
Tibbetts likes what he has on defense, as well. Sophomore Abby Ellis was actually Warwick’s second-leading scorer last year. She’ll still be a threat this season, but she’ll also anchor the back line, along with fellow sophomore Savannah Hersey.
“They’re young but they’re two of the best defensemen in the state,” Tibbetts said. “I’m very confident in them.”
Freshmen Alyssa Mathews and Carolyn Henn are also expected to make a big impact on defense, along with senior Hannah McGuirl and freshman Makenzie Driscoll.
In net, the Titans have three goalies – senior Kayleen Murphy, junior Arielle Frank and sophomore Erin Vermilye. Murphy returns as the starter after an impressive junior season. She had a 2.44 goals against average and had three shutouts late in the regular season.
“She had a good finish to the season last year and she played a lot of hockey over the summer,” Tibbetts said. “We expect her to be a strength back there.”
All in all, the Lady Titans seem to have what it takes to keep the program moving in the right direction. Last year’s 11 wins were by far the most in program history.
The climb will be much steeper this year with the Division I slate, but Warwick will keep pushing.
“La Salle is probably the favorite, but I don’t think you’re going to see anybody go undefeated,” Tibbetts said. “Mount St. Charles lost a lot, Bay View lost a lot. I think there’s going to be a lot of parity, and hopefully we can be a part of it.”