Colby goalie Nina Prunster makes a save against Wesleyan in the first period of a Jan. 11 women’s hockey game in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

First, the good news for the Colby women’s hockey team: It’s in the NCAA III tournament for the first time in program history.

Now, for the daunting: Its first round opponent, Plattsburgh (New York) State, is one of the most dominant programs in the country.

“Well, we have nothing to lose,” said Colby coach Holley Tyng, who is in her fifth season. “It’s going to be fun to play. We’ll go out there, put our best foot forward and enjoy the ride. Let’s just go play.”

The Mules (16-5-1) — one of only three teams to earn an at-large bid to the 10-team field — will face off against the powerful Cardinals (24-2-1) at 3 p.m., Saturday in a national quarterfinal game in Plattsburgh.

Plattsburgh, which won the Northeast Women’s Hockey League, is the defending national champ, although the 2020 and 21 tournaments weren’t contested because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Cardinals have won five of the last six national titles.

“I think we’re ready,” said Colby senior captain forward Lexi Cafiero, who leads the team with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists). “I think we have a good shot. We play with a ton of heart. We won’t back down without giving them a good fight.”


Plattsburgh coach Kevin Houle, who is in his 19th season, said a newcomer to the NCAA tournament field presents some challenges.

“I don’t know much about Colby, other than that they’re a real good hockey team,” he said. “It’s great to see teams break through to the NCAAs, new teams, like Colby. We’ll need to be ready. A young team like Colby, which hasn’t been there before, they’ll have a lot of energy and will bring a lot of enthusiasm to the game.

The Mules dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to Amherst (Mass.) College in the New England Small College Athletic Conference semifinals last Saturday, putting their NCAA tournament hopes in the hands of the selection committee.

Wesleyan’s Brooke Keough (3) tries to get a shot on goal as Colby’s Anna Staton (2) defends in the first period of a Jan. 11 game in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

However, the Mules were still a top 10 team in the D-III PairWise rankings, a statistical tool that compares teams based on head-to-head victories and common opponents, among other factors.

“I knew there was a chance we’d still make it, but you just don’t know,” Tyng said. “I know the NCAA uses PairWise to determine the bracket. We were eighth after the loss to Amherst, so I knew we had a chance. I thought we would’ve had to at least play in the NESCAC final to make it.”

The Mules met in their locker room Sunday for the selection show. Tyng and Cafiero said a wide range of emotions were on display.


“It was nerve-racking,” Cafiero said. “Sitting in the locker room, there was a lot of stress in the room, but a lot of excitement as well. When we got called, it was one of best feelings I’ve ever experienced. It was surreal. It was amazing. We were jumping, hugging, crying.”

Added Tyng: “Between losing in OT in the (NESCAC) semifinals and then getting up for the show, and then finding out we were in, it was a roller-coaster. The girls were just sitting there. We were nervous, myself included.”

Colby senior captain goalie Nina Prünster — who ranks third in the country with a .959 save percentage — also acknowledged that the Mules were nervous heading into selection Sunday.

“There were definitely a lot of emotions and thoughts going on,” she said. “I for awhile thought our season might be over. It was an amazing, amazing feeling when we got in, We are so excited for this opportunity in front of us. We get be together for at least one more week on the ice.”

Colby (16-5-1)  joins the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and University of Wisconsin-River Falls as the at-large teams in the tournament. Middlebury (Vermont) College (24-0-0) — which won the NESCAC tournament — earned the No. 1 overall seed. The Panthers, who are making their 17th appearance in the Division III tournament, are chasing their fourth national title and first since 2006.

Colby’s McKinley Karpa (23) tries to score on Wesleyan goalie Rei Halloran (30) in the first period of a Jan. 11 game in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Plattsburgh, meanwhile, features the nation’s top-ranked offense, averaging 5.78 goals a game. Annie Katonka is second in the country in scoring with 55 points (32 goals, 23 assists) while Sara Krauseneck is fourth with 52 (20 goals, 32 assists). 


“I would say that certainly the strength this year has been our offense,” Houle said. “We’ve had three or four girls who have had outstanding years in terms of numbers. We have that ability to put that puck in the net.”

“I have a lot of respect for their offense,” added Prünster, who has a 1.08 goals against average. “They produce a lot on offense. They have good players on that team who can score a lot of goals.”

The Mules are allowing a minuscule 1.18 goals a game, good for sixth in the country.

“Nina is next level with her preparation,” Tyng said.

Colby sophomore forward Meg Rittenhouse earned top rookie honors in the NESCAC after finishing with 21 points, second on the team behind Cafiero.

“We really expected to get further in the NESCAC tournament, so that was a big disappointment when we lost in that game,” Cafiero said. “So to get another chance to compete is unbelievable. As a senior, it’s been very emotional. We went from thinking our season is over to hearing we’ll get another chance to play. We’ll take all those emotions and channel them into that game.”

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