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Girls' Hockey

Cougars ready to carry on state tourney success

Rob Weinmeister, head coach of the Aberdeen Cougars girls varsity, watches the action from the bench during a game earlier this season against the Sioux Falls Flyers at the Odde Ice Center. Photo by John Davis taken 1/7/2022

The Aberdeen Cougar girls hockey program is young, sure. And to be fair, they’ll enter this weekend’s state tournament as a 3-seed, not the perennial favorites they’ve been the last 5+ years.

But don’t mistake those attributes for an untested pushover. The Cougars are prepared to contend with anyone when they take the ice at the Odde Ice Center this weekend for the South Dakota state girls hockey tournament.

Aberdeen begins play Friday at 10 a.m., hosting No. 6 Oahe in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. Other first round pairings have Sioux Center vs. Mitchell at 12:30 p.m., Watertown vs. Brookings at 3 p.m., and Rushmore vs. Sioux Falls at 5:30 p.m.

The Cougars have played in seven straight championship games, winning six of them, and despite graduating six seniors – and prolific ones, at that – the team has no intentions of stepping lightly. 

“We do have a younger team, but the success we’ve had this season is because the team has come together and played as a team,” said Aberdeen coach Rob Weinmeister. “They’re young girls, but they work hard, and they have a lot of speed.”

The Cougars have leveraged that speed and teamwork into a 14-4 record this season, with all four losses coming to just two teams, Sioux Falls and Mitchell, which own the No. 1 and 2 seeds in the tournament, respectively.

But with three lines that, by Weinmeister’s admission, are fairly interchangeable in terms of starting rotation, and a roster that understands what it takes to succeed, the Cougars feel prepared for anything.

“A lot of these girls have been in the program and understand the culture that was there and the things you needed to do to be successful,” Weinmeister said. “I don’t want to say there’s pressure, but there is a bit of a standard to live up to. You have to work hard and bring your best all the time.”

Because, 3-seed or not, winning six of the last seven state trophies carries with it a bit of a target.

“Everybody is still looking to beat Aberdeen,” Weinmeister said.

The Cougars have handled that target well throughout the season, Weinmeister said, pointing to the team’s depth and maturity as keys to that.

Juniors Ema Rehder and Sydney Hofer, along with sophomore Kailyn Poppen, serve as the team’s captains. Naturally, the three are also among the team’s statistical leaders and are some of the more vocal members of the team, but the weight of the team’s success is spread throughout the roster.

Sydney Hofer, of the Aberdeen Cougars girls varsity, second from the left, celebrates a goal with teammates Rani Mattke (34) and Kailyn Poppen, right, as Lauren Scheel (22) skates in to join the celebration during a game earlier this season against the Mitchell Marlins at the Odde Ice Center. In the foreground for the Marlins is Tiffany Hatwan (19). Photo by John Davis taken 1/29/2022

“There’s girls all around them on each line and sometimes they’re the ones stepping up,” Weinmeister said.

Weinmeister also pointed out the efforts of goaltender Ellen Orr, who stepped into the starting role despite having no prior varsity experience. Orr has played all 918 minutes of the season, recording a 14-4 record with five shutouts.

“You look around the state, for someone who has seen that many minutes, she’s been phenomenal,” Weinmeister said. “And the team has really rallied around her.”

Aberdeen will take on Oahe in the first round, and the specter of possibility of facing Mitchell in the second round looms after that. But, Weinmeister noted, the team’s focus is more on itself than anyone else.

“For us to be successful  we need to play our game,” Weinmeister said. “We need to come out with speed and put pressure on the other team. We’re focusing on one game, but we’re focusing on ourselves and being prepared to go forward.”

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