Date Posted:11/19/2003,  11:00AM

2003-04 Women's Ice Hockey Preview

It would be misleading to say that expectations around the Bowdoin College women's ice hockey team are as high as they were in 2002-03. Losing eight seniors to graduation, an All-American to transfer, the top goal-scorer and goalkeeper as well as the National Coach of the Year from an NCAA Semifinalist team could, in fact, be debilitating to some teams.

But don't feel bad for the Polar Bears and head coach Kevin McGonagle. With loads of returning talent and an exciting group of first-years, Bowdoin is ranked sixth in the preseason poll and will likely make another run at a NESCAC crown and the NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps, this time it'll be more surprising than expected.

"We're very young....but we're very good," says McGonagle. "A think people may be underestimating us this year. I've liked what I've seen so far, and the last few days we've really improved."

Despite losing all-time top-scorer Shelly Chessie '03 to graduation, the Polar Bears return six of their top nine scorers from a year ago. Leading the way will be the captain duo of Marissa O'Neil (Manchester, N.H.) and Gillian McDonald (Hudson, Que.). Fresh off first-team All-NESCAC performances in field hockey, the pair will look to duplicate the effort in ice hockey as O'Neil scored 18 times and added 23 assists to garner second-team All-NESCAC honors as well as a spot on the NCAA All-Tournament team. McDonald was Bowdoin's fifth-leading scorer in '02-'03, finding the back of the net 16 times on the year. The pair was also one-two on the team in game-winners as O'Neil posted five and McDonald four.

Senior forward Britney Carr (Conway, N.H.) scored three goals but added 18 assists a year ago and will look to improve on those numbers, as will sophomore Kelsey Wilcox (Cumberland, Maine) who scored eight times last season. Sophomore Nicki Young (Medford, Mass.) had eight assists and will get more scoring opportunities this year, along with seniors Jen Pelkey (Cornwall, Ont.) and Jess Burke (Arlington, Mass.).

A group of extremely exciting rookies will give a shot of energy into the forwards as seven newcomers will fight for ice time. The group covers nearly every corner of North America, from Mainer Kate Leonard (Eliot) and Massachusetts natives Meghan Tanguay (Medfield) and Jenna O'Brien (West Roxbury, Mass.) to Canadians Sheryl Stevens (Miramichi, N.B.) and Meghan Gillis (Whycocomagh, N.S.). Add Pennsylvania product Katie Forney (Gettysburg) and Pacific Northwesterner Jayme Woogerd (Seattle, Wash.) and the Polar Bears have quite a collection of talent.

"Obviously Marissa needs to have a big year for us scoring-wise," says the coach. "But we also have three or four freshman that no one really knows about. We have an absolutely huge first-year class and we'll be putting pressure on them right away."

Defensively, Bowdoin will rely on upperclassmen- captain Sadie Wieschhoff (Brookline, Mass.) and Cathie Quinlan (St. John's, Newfoundland)- for a significant amount of ice time this year. Sophomore Rebecca Selden had a solid rookie campaign last year, scoring six goals and adding nine assists from the blue-line. First-years Mary Kate Wheeler (Ithaca, N.Y.) and Lydia Hawkins (Woodstock, N.B.) will be counted on for immediate contributions.

Replacing first-team All-American Emily McKissock '03 will be no easy task for the Polar Bears. The load will fall on the capable shoulders of Nathalie Morgan (Dieppe, N.B.) and Cat MacEachern (Berwick, N.S.). Both netminders saw limited action last year, and will look to put what they've learned to good use right away.

"Goaltending, as always, will be the key," according to McGonagle. "If we get to decent-to-fair goalkeeping, we're going to have an excellent year."

Bowdoin is thrown into the fire immediately as they take on reigning NESCAC Champion and arch-rival Middlebury to open the season on November 21. They'll also face seventh-ranked Williams the next day on November 22. Throw in non-conference tilts with National Finalist Manhattanville (home, November 30), Gustavus Adolphus (home, February 2) and the always-tough NESCAC season and the Polar Bears will have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation.

"I think our schedule's great," says the coach. "Five of our first six games are on the road and if we want to get better, we'll be tested right away. You don't win National Championships in November and December. We want to see our team get better, get smarter and be emotional in the right way. We won't be taking anyone lightly because, like Coach Meagher says, when you put a Bowdoin jersey on, people put a checkmark next to your name."