When Jack Gravel took over the Mound Westonka girls’ hockey program in 2014, he had the luxury of a goalie beginning her third season as a starter.
Two years later, Gravel still has Emma Polusny starting. Polusny hasn’t slowed down since a stellar eighth-grade season four years ago.
“She’s our backbone,” Gravel said. “We go as she goes.”
Polusny, who recently committed to Division I St. Cloud State, has begun her fifth and final season for the Whitehawks with another solid start. She has a .924 save percentage so far.
“She is just quick, got a good glove [and] she very seldom gets caught out of position,” Gravel said.
Polusny has impressive career numbers: 23 shutouts, 3,239 saves and a 70-37-8 record in goal. Statistics don’t concern her, though.
“I just want to give my team the best chance they have at winning,” Polusny said. “That’s my only goal right now. It’s not save percentage and stuff like that.”
Polusny led the team to a 19-6-3 record last winter and had career bests of 1.68 goals allowed per game, a .943 save percentage and eight shutouts.
“She’s worked tremendously hard over the last two summers to get to where she is,” Gravel said.
Polusny honed her skills with the tutelage of Mitch Baker, the co-founder of goalie training program Premier Goaltender Development. Baker recently left the state for an assistant coaching position with Division I Union women’s hockey.
“He’s just really been great about teaching me not just the technicalities of the game but really the mental aspect, too, having that mental strength to finish off games,” Polusny said.
Her toughness has sparked the program’s success that includes a Class 1A state tournament appearance in 2013. With a veteran roster this winter, the Whitehawks have their sights set on a return to state after reaching the finals of the Class 1A, Section 2 tournament last season.
While Polusny gives the Whitehawks a chance to win any game, she has some significant talent around her as well, including senior forward Liz Schepers, who has committed to Ohio State. Schepers scored 38 goals and assisted on 26 last year.
“Liz is always coming in clutch with that goal to push us ahead or really solidify the win,” Polusny said.
Senior forwards Ellie Burris and Hunter Gallus also can spark the offense. Both have competed with Polusny and Scheper since eighth grade, the year the Whitehawks last went to state.
Ending a three-year state tourney drought doesn’t look easy considering a 2-2 start to the season. Polusny has allowed 2.25 goals per game, but three goals happened in final minutes of the team’s two losses.
“Take 65 seconds out of those two games, and we’re 4-0,” Gravel said.
A 3-2 loss at Northfield on Nov. 15 might sting the most. The Raiders scored with 7.3 seconds left despite a 30-save effort by Polusny. She called it an emotional night since she played her first varsity contest at that rink on Nov. 15, 2012, a 5-1 victory for the Whitehawks.
“Because of that, my emotions were a little bit high and it got a little bit of the best of me,” said Polusny, who said she normally keeps a level head in goal.
Such a loss could help down the road. Polusny said the Whitehawks overlooked New Prague last winter in a 5-1 defeat, something they don’t want to happen again.
“We’ve got to work to get back to that same spot,” Polusny said. “It’s not going to be given to us.”