Kyle Alveshere had just eight days to put his team together. But the South Washington County Thunderbolts adapted floor hockey team’s first season turned out to be a success, on and off the floor.
The team, a cooperative between East Ridge, Park and Woodbury high schools, was 6-3 in the regular season and earned a trip to the state tournament in its first year.
“We learned on the fly,” said Alveshere, a special education teacher at East Ridge who was a head coach for the first time this past season. “I didn’t go in with huge expectations. I just wanted to get the program started, let the kids have fun and learn life lessons.”
The Minnesota Adapted Athletic Association, providing competition in cognitively impaired (CI) and physically impaired (PI) divisions, provides youths with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a high school sports program. Minnesota is the only state where the high school league sponsors adapted athletic programs and state tournaments.
South Washington County’s first practice was on Jan. 5, just eight days before the team’s first game. Though the Thunderbolts were coming off state championship victories in adapted softball and soccer in the CI division, Alveshere admitted there was a big learning curve teaching the game of hockey.
“We were starting from scratch,” Alveshere said. “It was challenging but fun. We started with the basics of holding a stick, puck handling and passing. It was really cool to see their improvement throughout the year. That’s the reason you coach.”
Senior captain Dylan Kubitschek, a key player for the Thunderbolts soccer and softball teams, said he jumped at the chance to play floor hockey.
“I did not want to sit around all winter and do nothing,” Kubitschek said. “I wanted to play floor hockey from the first day I found out it was going to happen.”
Because of their past success in soccer and softball, Kubitschek and longtime teammate and fellow senior captain Tristan Rankin each had an inkling the Thunderbolts would be pretty good at floor hockey, too.
“I was confident,” Rankin said. “I thought since we were good at softball and soccer, we would also be good at hockey. We have good players and coaches.”
Kubitschek said the team’s success didn’t happen right away. The Thunderbolts lost their first two games of the season — 12-7 to Owatonna and 8-4 to Dakota United — but improved as the season went on, winning six of their final seven games to reach the state tournament.
“Everyone wants to be good and win state,” Kubitschek said. “We were not that good at first, but as the season went on we got better and better. So we were not good to start, but we became good.”
Alveshere said having two veteran captains in Kubitschek and Rankin helped the building process.
“Maybe the greatest thing was seeing the older kids take the younger kids under their wing and encouraging them,” Alveshere said. “Those two are outgoing kids and they know adapted sports. They rallied the team together. It was really cool to see them own their roles.”
Kubitschek and Rankin, along with Wendy Cotterman, were the only seniors on the Thunderbolts roster. Kubitschek said he believed he and his Thunderbolts teammates overcame the unknown this season and gelled.
“I had played with some of my team members in soccer and softball so we had that bond,” he said. “Me and Tristan had that bond. We know each other and how we work and where we like to be on plays. But you can’t give all the credit to him or me. This season was a team effort.”