Sara Durst stepped in at the right time.
After the resignation of coach Rick Capener, declining enrollment numbers, and the absence of a school to be sanctioned with, the fate of the Badger Lightning girls hockey program was up in the air this past summer. But thanks to a combination of a different school backing the program and Durst volunteering to become head coach, the Lightning are back in business.
“Unfortunately the season ended kind of in a rough patch last year,” Durst said. “Baraboo is not actually the school that’s backing the program any longer, so throughout the summer it was completely up in the air whether or not we would even have a team. Thankfully Mauston who is a part of the co-op was able to back the team.”
Durst, a Reedsburg native who joined the team last year as an assistant coach, has history with the program as she played on the team back in 2006 when it became a high school team for the first time. After the resignation of Capener, who was the head coach for the past two years, Durst knew finding a new head coach would be difficult and with close ties with the program, she was happy to step in.
“We were not a high school sanctioned team; we worked very hard to be able to develop this team,” Durst said of her time playing for the co-op from 2006 to 2009. “So it was a little difficult to see what the program went through over the course of last year and it was quite sad to hear that quite possibly may not even have a team so honestly I didn’t have to think twice about it, I was more than willing to step up to the plate.”
The Lightning, which open up their season tonight with a home game against Lakeshore Lightning in Reedsburg, is made up of players from Baraboo, Reedsburg, Sauk Prairie, and Mauston. With four graduated seniors and two players declining to play this season, the Lightning are young and shorthanded.
“Being that we only have 11 girls on the team this year, a huge priority of mine is to get them conditioned,” Durst said of their practice routines. “They need it; they’re going to get all the playing time in the world so that’s been a primary focus of ours.”
Durst mentioned while uncertainty clouded the team for most of the offseason, her players have quickly put that behind them and have shown dedication and hard work in the first several practices.
“They know me, they know what to expect from me and I know what to expect out of them. Practices have gone very well the past couple of weeks. Everybody is working well together; I couldn’t ask for a better team this year,” Durst said.
Mauston junior Lizzie Patton is the Lightning’s top returning scorer, having racked up 25 points last season. Sophomore Baylee Babcock will be relied on as well, as she recorded 15 points during her freshman year. The Lightning will also feel the loss of graduated goalie Gabby Christensen, who saved nearly 90 percent of the shots going her way last season.
“Thankfully the girls were able to talk a young lady named Natalie Buss from Mauston in trying out hockey for the first time ever, and she’s willing to take on that goalie position,” Durst said.
Buss, a sophomore, isn’t the only first-time hockey player on the team as Baraboo senior Izzy DuBray joined the team as well. The only other player from Baraboo is sophomore Ellie Goethel, who recorded two points last year as a freshman. Durst expects Goethel, along with sophomore Allison Knull from Reedsburg to make a leap this season.
“She is a sophomore and I’ve always been incredibly impressed with how she carries herself and her dedication to the sport and her drive,” Durst said of Goethel. “She’s one of the toughest girls I know.”
Patton, Babcock, and senior Tierney Andres will serve as captains this season.
“We’re fortunate that a few of our girls played summer hockey together so they just have that rhythm down pat for this season,” Durst said.
The Lightning finished last season with an overall mark of 4-18 and placed fifth in the Badger Conference (2-8). They will kick off the conference season on Tuesday when they travel to Madison to take on the Metro Lynx.
“Personally, I just want to see the girls have a successful season,” Durst said of her team’s goals. “I do not define success as necessarily having a winning season, but to simply have the program continue, have the girls truly enjoy playing hockey and being here every day, and improving themselves both as hockey players and as people.”