Hamline Women’s Hockey makes record as NCAA championship runners-up

Women’s Hockey’s NCAA runner-up finish is a record-setting first, but the team hopes to break it next year.


Melanie Hopkins

Senior Bre Simon received the prestigious Laura Hurd award from the American Hockey College Assocation. She is the first Hamline athlete to win the award, which is presented to the best player in the NCAA Women’s D-III level.

Lydia Hansen, Senior Reporter

Hamline’s women’s hockey team skated to a personal record-setting season finish when they became the national runners-up in the NCAA D-III championship game on March 16.

The Pipers beat out familiar competitors like St. Thomas and Wisconsin-River Falls to come in second to Plattsburgh State in the final match of the NCAA championship tournament.

This is a first for the women’s hockey team, but part of an upward trend of progress and performance the team has traced over the last three years under the leadership of head coach Natalie Darwitz, an Olympian and 2018 US Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.

Darwitz said her early impressions of Hamline’s women’s hockey team when she took the position four years ago were that they were a “team that had potential” despite their low MIAC rankings.

In just four years, Darwitz has turned that around. Her first season behind the bench saw the Pipers finish with a 9-13-3 record, the most wins for the team in nearly a decade. Her next season broke another record when the team qualified for the MIAC playoffs for the first time in a decade. The following year the Pipers finished third in the NCAA tournament for the first time in Hamline’s history.

“It’s a huge kudos for our program,” Darwitz said. “We’ve turned perceptions of Hamline’s Women’s Hockey from not being good to being a top contender nationally.”

The 2018-2019 season topped all previous records with the runner-up finish. Darwitz is confident this is just the beginning of even better seasons to come.

“This year it was proved that we were a mainstay at the top,” Darwitz said. “It was proved that last year wasn’t a fluke that we got lucky, but that we can back it up.”

Sophomore McKenna Hulslander is also hopeful about going back to the championships next year. She pointed out that the team the Pipers lost to in the championship, Plattsburgh State, was a team they had defeated in the NCAA tournament last year.

“[The championship] is not something that’s out of reach,” Hulslander said. “It’s a team that we have beaten and we will beat in the future.”

Junior Bre Simon said that while taking second is a disappointment, seeing the way the team continues to improve from year to year makes her hopeful.

“I know we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but I think what made us successful was our team culture,” Simon said. “If we did lose or even between periods, especially during the Plattsburgh game, we were always there to pick each other up.”

Simon brought home some extra trophies this season. She was named the D-III Women’s Hockey Player of the Year by USCHO.com and won the American Hockey College Association’s Laura Hurd Award, which is presented to the best player in the NCAA Women’s D-III level.

“If this was football, it would be the Heisman,” Darwitz said of the award. “She is the best player in the nation. No Hamline player has ever gotten that award in any sport.”

Another first for the Pipers this season was hosting the quarterfinals against Wisconsin-River Falls at TRIA rink, the first time Hamline has hosted an NCAA championship game.

The Pipers were also lucky to play another key championship game against St. Thomas in Mendota Heights, close enough to home to have great turnout of friends, family and fans. Both there and at TRIA rink, having packed seats to cheer the Pipers on made the experience and the milestones being made even better.

“We thank all the fans, all the students for their support and for coming out and cheering us on,” Darwitz said. “It really made it an advantage to have the fans cheering when we played and scored a goal.”

Senior Dani Perry has been playing on the hockey team for three years and says the team’s growth over that time is a significant indicator of potential to continue setting records.

“Going out as a senior, I’m a little bummed we didn’t take the championship, but I have a lot of confidence that this won’t be the last time this team plays the championship,” Perry said. “I know Coach Darwitz isn’t anywhere close to being done yet. I’m really excited to see what the team will do in the years to come.”