The moment she sees the e-mail in her inbox, Natalie Darwitz hits delete.
She never opens it; she doesn’t want to see it.
As the coach of the Lakeville South girls’ hockey team, the former Gophers and U.S. Olympic team star doesn’t care where her Cougars sit in the weekly state rankings, no matter how convenient it would be to look.
“I don’t think I’ve ever opened one of those ranking e-mails,” she said with a laugh. “So, we’re in the top 10? I didn’t realize that.”
The Cougars (15-3-1, 13-0 South Suburban Conference) came in at No. 9 last week, and have been ranked among the best in Class 2A all season. They’ve had signature victories, including 2-1 over rival No. 10 Lakeville North on Dec. 18. They’ve been impressive on offense, scoring five or more goals in 10 games after Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Eagan.
Darwitz doesn’t put a lot of stock in those facts, either.
“Results are great, but that’s not the end-all, be-all,” she said. “Our focus is on, can we build from the end of October to the end of February? Obviously, being competitive and wanting the best out of our girls and being the best we can as coaches, we want to go as far as we can. Hopefully, that means the state tournament. But the biggest thing is building to where you’re playing your best hockey at the right time.”
Do that, Darwitz added, and the rest will fall into place.
Darwitz said the key for the Cougars’ success this year is the same as for any solid team: “a mix of goal-scoring, solid defense and a goalie that can keep the puck out of the net,” she said. “You don’t need to overthink it.”
Lakeville South’s offensive is led by senior centers Janna Haeg (16 goals, 25 assists, 41 points) and Morgan Morse (17-15-32) and wingers Chloe Batta (10-13-23) and Haley Ravndalen (9-11-20).
Junior goaltender Chloe Crosby is 12-3-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average, and senior co-captain Kelsey Olsen helps anchor the defense.
“We have a pretty old team, a lot of seniors, and we’ve been playing together for a really long time,” Olsen said. “It’s fun to have it all come together this year and see where we’ve gone.”
‘It’s about the players’
Olsen remembers the excitement before her freshman year when Darwitz was named as coach.
“She was our idol,” Olsen said. “We were just so excited to learn from her.”
Olsen said beyond her coach’s experience in the game, the biggest thing that rubs off on the team is Darwitz’s passion for hockey — and her intensity.
“It really keeps us in the right mind-set,” she said.
The coach, though, is quick to deflect all attention to the team. Hockey, she said, is about the players and the way they play.
“[Coaching] is all about the girls and reading them — how you need to treat situations, how you need to coach them,” Darwitz said. “You have to be able to adapt, because you’re never going to coach the same way each year because the team is different every year.”
Ravndalen said the team is just looking to peak at the right time.
“Our team’s really shown what we have, but it doesn’t really matter where we are right now,” she said. “We’re just trying to put it all out there and hopefully, we’ll keep it going.”