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Girls hockey preview: To be the best, Tigers aim to beat the best

Farmington head coach Jon Holmes addresses his girls hockey team during practice Friday afternoon at Schmitz-Maki Arena. The Tigers return a strong core of players from last year's 18-8-1 team.

It's commonplace to hear a head coach talk in the pre-season about how talented his team is or how high their expectations are.

But by revamping the schedule for the 2010 season, Farmington fourth-year girls hockey coach Jon Holmes is showing just how much he believes in his program.

This season, the Tigers will take on Breck, Wayzata and Lakeville South in their first three games before opening their Missota Conference shedule Nov. 23 at league newcomer Chaska/Chanhassen. Those three teams, which combined for a record of 54-28-3 last season, will replace on the schedule Rochester John Marshall, Winona and Rochester Century, three teams the Tigers beat by a combined 25 goals last season. The Tigers will also go up against Eden Prairie and Lakeville North in the non-conference season as they try to better prepare themselves for the competitive Section 1AA Tournament, where they've bowed out to the Lakeville schools each of the last two seasons.

"I would gladly put our schedule up against most other teams with confidence.... This was definitely by design for several reasons," said Holmes, whose teams have gone 53-26-5 over three seasons. "As a coaching staff we felt that we needed to better prepare ourselves for the post season. Over the past couple of years we have had several games where we have won by many goals. While this is nice for player stats and for the old wins and loss columns, it is detrimental to a team's ability to perform in a close battle or to come back from behind. We also thought that this year we have the personnel in place to be competitive against almost any team."

Defenseman Angie Schull is the lone graduation loss from last year's 18-8-1 team. The rest of the Missota Conference championship team is intact, led by a trio of talented senior forwards -- Krystal Baumann, Hannah Alexander and Emily Severson. Baumann (41 goals, 17 assists) and Alexander (20 goals, 34 assists) were both first-team all-conference players last season and Severson was third on the team with 12 goals.

"They are all big contributors to our success and just all around great persons," Holmes said. "Whatever success we have this year will have a direct correlation to their ability to lead on and off the ice."

While Baumann, Alexander and Severson are the team's only seniors, they're far from being the only ones with varsity experience. Several of the freshmen, sophomores and juniors on the roster have been playing varsity since they were in seventh or eighth grade. This roster make-up has created a family atmosphere among players who have been playing together since Holmes took over for longtime coach Keith Revels in 2007.

"We have been together as a core group for the past five years. Each year we have only lost a couple of players due to graduation and we have not really had an influx of newcomers from the feeder end," Holmes said. "This team really knows each other. They really get along and we all view ourselves as family."

Three sophomores with varsity experience are back in Haleigh Zwart, Grace Gavin and Sydney Shoenecker. They're joined by freshmen returners Haley Doll and Shaye Jenrich, as well as potential varsity players Maddie Strid, Breanna Raske, Megan Stivers and eighth-graders Chloe Batta and Emily Johnson.

On the defensive end, Schull's leadership duties will be handed over to a trio of juniors -- Betsy Anderson, Molly Friedlund and Katie Burgess. Sophomore Rachael Peroutky and freshmen Bria Donnelly and Rachael Welzin are also back.

Brooke Raska and Lexi Smrekar could also see time for a defense that will line up in front of returning junior goaltender Jessica Erchul. Erchul has been in the Tiger net since 2007 and is coming off a sophomore season where she allowed a career-low 1.94 goals per game while posting a .916 save percentage and stopping 557 shots in 27 games.

"We are really positive as a coaching staff when we look at our upcoming season. Not only have we been working on team concepts and skills with this group of players for the past few years, we have now seen them grow into young adults that are capable of performing at a higher level than ever before possible," Holmes said. "We will definitely be looking to defend our 2010 conference championship this year. With the addition of Chaska/Channhassen and the rest of our conference becoming so much more competitive this will be quite a daunting task. We are confident, however, that we will be able to achieve this goal with a great deal of determination and timely execution."

Holmes will be joined on the Farmington coaching staff by Shawn Anderson, Jason Kohlbeck, JV head coach Dan Pickens and Al Jenrich.