The Jamestown High School girls hockey best season on record in nearly 10 years ended in a trip to the state tournament last February.
Head coach Andy Fitzgerald is hoping the 2021-22 season can take on a similar tone.
"There's going to be a lot of teams in the middle there who will be fighting for spots, including us," Fitzgerald said. "Our goal is definitely to get to state and not wait another eight years to go back."
The Blue Jays started out last winter a little rocky, losing eight straight games to put the team at 2-11-0 but the tides turned the day after the Jays lost 3-1 to Minot.
On Jan. 30, the team pitched a convincing 5-0 shutout at Williston. The win was the start to a 4-2 streak in February, bringing the Blue Jays record to 5-13-0. The Blue Jays clinched the No. 8 seed at the state tournament with an 8-1 win over Dickinson on Feb. 12.
"The good thing with our returning players is that they are all hard workers and they can show the younger girls, who are new to this, what it takes day in and day out," Fitzgerald said. "They don't just work hard on game days, but during each day in practice."
Jamestown's girls hockey squad opened Wilson Arena for practices on Nov. 8. Since his 10 key returners and influx of underclassmen have hit the ice, Fitzgerald said he was impressed with the team's work ethic and willingness to learn. The Blue Jays are only returning three upperclassmen in Madi Hagen, Bernadette Belzer and Alexis Kirkeby. Hagen is the Jays' only senior.
"Our team looks fairly young when you look at the grades that the girls are in but we have a lot of sophomores who have a full year of varsity experience coming back," Fitzgerald said. "We have four of the top-five scorers from last season returning so hopefully we can keep putting points up on the board."
Kirkeby, a junior defenseman, netted 14 of the Jays' 55 total goals last season. Kirkeby ended her sophomore season second only to JHS alum Ella Roaldson in total points earned with 18. The junior was ranked 25th in the state in total scoring.
Roaldson was Jamestown's leading scorer for four straight years.
Belzer will be returning as a front forward. The junior pushed eight pucks past opposing goaltenders last season and racked up 14 points. Hagen assisted on five total goals while now-freshman Ellie Krueger notched three goals and three assists for six points.
"We've made some good strides these past two weeks," Fitzgerald said. "I like the work ethic of the girls and their willingness to learn. It's been a good first two weeks."
In addition to filling Roaldson's skates, the Blue Jays will be working with a new goalie in net. Olivia Sorlie will take over for JHS grad Erika Anderson. Anderson posted an 87.3 save percentage, knocking away 405 of the 464 shots put on net.
"She's really come a long way over the fall and these last couple of weeks," Fitzgerald said of Sorlie. "I don't know a whole lot about the game of soccer but I think it's a lot of the same mentality.
"You are the last line of defense before the goal is scored so there is a little extra pressure on you and she's used to that from the soccer side of things. She's looking more and more comfortable in net each day and she's starting to look like a natural."
Sorlie was named the Blue Jays' girls soccer team starting goalie last spring. The sophomore made 48 saves in four games before she suffered a wrist injury that benched her the rest of the season.
While Sorlie has been adjusting to life in net, the rest of the team has been working to get their legs back under them by doing drills that work on the passing, skating and scoring aspects of the game. Fitzgerald said that the past few weeks have also aided the Jays in building a strong team chemistry as the Jays' are welcoming three freshmen who have never played the game of hockey before.
The trio of newbies have been working with the Jays' assistant coaches to learn the basics of the game.
"We're going to be a really hardworking team that does the little things right," Fitzgerald said. "We are going to have a lot of excitement out on the ice and we'll keep the energy level high."