Long before the high school softball season started last spring, Maple Grove head coach Jim Koltes predicted a state tournament appearance for his Crimson.
The girls did him one more, advancing all the way into the state title game.
The girls hockey coach at Champlin Park as well, Koltes had a similar response when asked a few weeks ago about what his hockey team might do this winter.
Call it over-confidence if you must, but after his softball prediction was fulfilled last June, perhaps the coach just knows what he is talking about.
“We made it, didn’t we,” said Koltes last week when reminded of where he said his Maple Grove softball team would end up. “I do feel the same about this team. We have a chance to go somewhere.”
Where that is won’t be determined for another three months. But for Champlin Park girls hockey followers, the final round of the Section 5AA tournament might suffice.
The Rebels, after all, have never extended their season that far. A year ago, the team appeared to be set up to play into at least a section final, but a double-overtime loss to Andover in the opening round of the postseason ended those hopes much to prematurely.
At the time, that defeat was dejecting. It has since, however, proved to be motivating.
“It was heart-breaking, but I think we’ll be better this year because of it,” said senior Hailey Adair. “A lot of girls worked a lot harder this summer because of it, and we should be better because of how much work we put in.”
The weight-room was a constant, and summer ice was a close second.
Even before Champlin Park played its first game this season – the Rebels were scheduled to open the season vs. North Metro Nov. 13 – Koltes said he can already tell the club is stronger, faster, and a mixture of every other adjective used to measure improvement.
It also helps that the group appears to be stocked full of ability.
Adair is back after a 38-point junior season to center the top line with senior Leah Elledge (21 points last year) and sophomore Briana Johnson (19 points in 2011-12); giving Champlin Park a No. 1 unit Koltes said will rival “any top line we see this year.”
The second line of juniors Maggie Cragg, Sydney Peluf and Marjie McNamara combined to score 42 points last season, and the third line of sophomore Abby Dokken, senior Emily Scott and ninth-grader Kaleigh Martinson also appears capable.
“I love, love, love our forwards,” Koltes said. “Every one of those lines can score, and they are just as good defensively. I’d take our forward group over just about any in the state.”
Defensively, senior Courtney Potter anchors a group that also includes junior Molly Rossbach, junior Gabby Paulsrud, senior Halie Trapp and junior Delaney Everett.
Sophomore goaltender Hannah Goettle also returns after turning in a ninth-grade season in which she allowed just 2.12 goals against per game, and stopped over 92 percent of the shots she faced.
“What is scary is Hannah wasn’t even healthy the whole year,” said Koltes. “If we can keep her healthy she has the ability to be one of the top goaltenders in all of Minnesota.”
And that, in hockey at least, generally means state tournament aspirations are within reach.
“We have the goaltending, we have the forwards and we have the defense to go really far this year,” said Elledge. “It gives me the chills just thinking about it. I just can’t wait to prove to everyone that this could be our year. We have a good, solid team with a lot of consistency. We have a chance to do something really special this year.”