By Tom Chalmers
Reporting By: Lisa Duck
The second season of Orange women’s hockey brings national prominence and recognition
Paul Flanagan was presented with a unique opportunity in 2008—the chance to build a Division I women’s hockey team.
“There was absolutely zero infrastructure,” Flanagan said. “They didn’t have any equipment or system in place. I saw [Syracuse] as an opportunity to spread my wings a little bit, broaden my horizons. I had been at one school for twenty years and we did very well, had a good program.”
Before accepting the head coaching position at SU two years ago, Flanagan created a national powerhouse at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. There, he inherited a two-year-old women’s Division I program that he swiftly carried to national stardom. Flanagan led the Saints to five Frozen Four (Read More) appearances in his nine years as head coach, including an appearance in the 2001 national championship game.
Flanagan has shown similar success at SU. In his two years as head coach at he has brought the Orange from complete obscurity to a top-10 national ranking and a conference championship game appearance. The team defeated the Niagara University Purple Eagles 5-3 on March 5, earning its first-ever postseason victory. The team then lost to No. 1 Mercyhurst 3-1 in the College Hockey America conference tournament championship game the next day. The team won nine more games than they had won last year.
“Last year was tough because we all were rookies to the program,” said senior goaltender and psychology major Lucy Schoedel, who amassed a CHA Tournament record 48 saves Saturday. “This year though, we know what to expect from the coaching staff and the other teams we’re playing and I think we’re all playing better for each other.”
Schoedel is one of only six upperclassmen on the team. The others are all transfers from other Division I programs across the country. Syracuse was seeking an experienced goaltender for its inaugural season, and Schoedel left national title-contending University of New Hampshire after her sophomore year to become the Orange’s starting goaltender.
UNH transfer and junior finance major Stefanie Marty has also led the young team, tallying the team’s second-highest goal total. She took on another athletic challenge when she played on the Swiss Olympic team this year. As Syracuse’s first Winter Olympian, Marty also became the third player to score eight or more goals in one Olympic Games.
For Marty and company, the 2009-10 season has sparked a considerable amount of national recognition as well. Following a Jan. 5 win over Cornell University, the Orange was ranked in the USCHO.com national poll, debuting at No. 10 on Jan. 11.
“It was really exciting,” said Schoedel. “When I found out I was actually in a quiet study area and I made a huge scene. No one thought we were going to be there.”
Sophomore biology major Megan Skelly, who scored the program’s first-ever goal, bases the team’s quick, and perhaps surprising, rise up the national rankings on the Orange’s perseverance.
“[Coach Flanagan] just tells us to work hard,” said Skelly. “I think that working hard is being smart because you always want to give 100 percent. We’ve made some comebacks this year that we probably would not have last year.”
Skelly expects the Orange to maintain their national prominence in the future, as the team continues to gain recognition as an upstart program.
“Our coach is a great recruiter and the atmosphere at Syracuse
is fantastic,” said Skelly. “In the next couple years I think we’ll be competing for the national title.”
Syracuse’s 2009-10 season has come to an end, finishing runner-up in the CHA, but the Orange is determined to preserve its place in the national picture of women’s hockey. After its second season, the team understands and embraces the necessary work that goes into creating a winning program.
“If we keep working, keep progressing, we can not only break the top 10 but can make the top eight,” said Flanagan. “Understanding how difficult it is to get in the top 10, and how gradual it is…makes us recognize just how hard you have to work to maintain that. It’s one thing to get there; you have to stay there.”