Dec. 24—LUVERNE — With enough veteran players on hand to provide leadership, mixed in with a new group of younger ones who have contributed, the 2022-23 Luverne High School girls hockey team appears to be more than capable of earning a fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament this season.
The Cardinals are 8-1. Their only loss has been to Mankato East 4-3 in overtime on Dec. 10, which was a game LHS led at one point, 3-1. Of their eight victories, four have been by shutout.
“We’ve got a group of new girls that came up from our 12U team that had success last year,” said head coach Tony Sandbulte. “We’ve got a good group up top for leadership, and the younger girls are filling in real nice.”
The older girls not only help the young ones find their way around the ice; they also help them find their way to the Blue Mound Ice Arena at practice-time.
Only four of the team’s players drive.
“So when they get out of school, they all stuff into four cars and all get out to the rink,” Sandbulte said.
The Cardinals are led by senior forward Kamryn Van Batavia who has, for several years, been a Minnesota high school girls hockey superstar. Always a prolific scorer, the Minnesota State University-Mankato commit currently ranks third in the state with 21 goals. She has 399 goals, and counting, in her high school career.
Other key LHS vets include senior goaltender Mallory Von Tersch, who is back in her natural position after working mostly as a defender last season; senior defenseman Mallory Nelson, a highly productive skater who is a sister to former Luverne boys hockey superstar Jaxson Nelson; and sophomore forward Payton Behr, another dynamic player who’s strong in the middle at center.
Van Batavia is where it all starts.
“It’s been fun watching her progression,” said Sandbulte. “Every year she just adds another piece. And it’s definitely fun to have her still on the team. She started as a seventh-grader. We pulled her up.”
Sandbulte adds, “Her shot really stands out, and when she’s hitting her spots she’s almost impossible to stop.”
This year, Kamryn isn’t the only Van Batavia on the team. Her seventh-grade sister Ellison is also on the squad.
She’s a strong player, too. It’s just a chance for Kam and Ellie to play together, and they make the most of it,” Sandbulte said. “Ellie’s kind of quiet and reserved, and she’s got her eyes wide open.”
As a team, the Cardinals place a strong focus on defense.
“We always try to approach the game in that we want to be sound in the defensive zone. Everything starts there. And the thing is, if we can be strong in the defensive zone, our offense will go from there,” said the coach.
Luverne’s three straight state tournament trips have caused rival programs to sit up and take notice, and it’s also allowed the team to build up its schedule to allow them to take on other exceptional teams in the regular season. One of those big tests will be with Warroad on Jan. 14 in Wahpeton.
Warroad is the No. 1-ranked team in Class A. Luverne is ranked ninth.
“We’re gonna learn where our defense is, I can tell you that,” remarked Sandbulte.
When asked to compare his 2022-23 Cardinals to the 2021-22 version, Sandbulte said that this year’s team has more depth. That fosters, he said, a highly competitive atmosphere in practice where girls know that if they’re not ready to take on the load, there’s always somebody else there to take it.
The state tournament remains the goal.
“That’s our mission. We want to be competitive with those top teams and see where we’re at. But one game at a time,” Sandbulte said.
Last year the Cards beat New Ulm 3-2 for the Section 3A title and lost both its state tourney games 3-1 to South St. Paul and 4-2 to River Lakes, finishing with a 23-5 record.