Though not nearly as loaded with comp-hockey studs like their rivals in the Cook Inlet Conference this season, the Chugiak/Eagle River girls team knew it would be in games because of its not-so-secret weapon on the back line.
Senior backstop Sophie Mundell was the last line of defense of the team, and more often than not, Mundell kept the team in games they had no business competing in.
"She's hugely respected in this conference," said C/ER coach Jesse James, who himself earned recognition as the conference's top coach.
Mundell's ability to keep her team hanging around against much better opponents was on full display in the team's season-ending loss to Dimond/West in the conference playoffs. She turned aside 36 shots and had her team (which won just four games this season) thinking upset heading into the final period of the eventual 4-0 loss.
Mundell was not an unknown commodity heading into the season. She spent her previous two seasons developing her game at the East Coast Hockey Academy, a big-time prep school in Vermont.
"She was an easy shoe-in," for the award, James said.
James' co-head coach, Tom Moore, said Mundell made the players around her better with her competitive drive.
"I think the whole team played better with her in the net," Moore said.
While Mundell's recognition in voting by the CIC coaches was expected, James said his was not.
"It was a shock," he said.
James agreed that the team was well-coached they won four more games than last season this year just not that he should be singled out.
"Tom was a huge part of it," James said of Moore, who served as co-head coach of the team this season.
Because of the nature of girls hockey two schools combine to form one team the squad had two head coaches. Moore said this situation can pull teams apart, but that didn't happen with he and James.
"I'm extremely proud of the work we've done together," Moore said. "It could be a real power struggle if you don't see eye-to-eye. We saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things, and we were able to sit down and work things out and do what we figured was best for the team."
Moore said he thought James was more than worthy of the award.
"I voted for him," he said.
James said he was gratified to be singled out, especially since this season was his last on the bench for Chugiak/Eagle River.
"I'm officially retiring this year," said the coach, who has been with the program for three years.
James has three young children, and said he needs to turn his attention to them.
"I'd like to focus on spending more time with them," he said.
Moore said he, too, is likely to retire after this season, but isn't quite ready to make a decision.
Both James and Moore said they're proud of the season the team had and the work they did to help the team improve its win total over last season.
"I think we took some real steps forward," he said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or 694-2727.
CIC All-Conference Team
Forwards: Molly Nokelby, Bartlett/South; Taylor Anderson, Dimond/West; Brittney Coleman, Dimond/West; Amy Brassard, Service/East; Ingrid Kelly, Dimond/West; Marianna Kristensen, Dimond/West