Miami women’s hockey won the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Championship for the second year in a row on March 19 in Columbus. The back to back championships adds up to three ACHA D1 National Championship titles in the past four years for the RedHawks.
The No. 3 ‘Hawks defeated the No. 1 Liberty University Flames 4-1 in a victory marked by senior Emalee Wills’ strong goaltending and the game-winning goal from senior captain Kaley Mooney.
“In the championship game, I think we overcame a lot of adversity. We were the underdogs for the semis and finals because we had lost to both of those teams during the season,” Mooney said. “In the semis and the finals, we really were all on the same page and all had one goal in mind, so we really came together as one unit and won when it mattered.”
The best of three quarterfinals series was a rematch of last year’s National Championship game between the determined RedHawks and the Grand Valley State University Lakers.
In the first game, Miami buried three unanswered goals in the third period to overcome a 2-1 deficit and claim the 4-2 victory. Miami squashed any of the Lakers’ hopes for a comeback in the second game, winning 2-1 on 45 shots to GVSU’s 18.
The No. 2 Adrian College Bulldogs waited for Miami in the semi-final game, knowing that they had swept the RedHawks in Oxford during the regular season. The Bulldogs’ confidence led to an early short-handed goal, though Miami would answer with a goal from freshman forward Ireland Mooney to tie the game.
Senior forward Katie Augustine would quickly follow Mooney’s goal with the game-winning goal to take a 2-1 lead. Adrian fought to counter but a goal from junior forward Alyssa Visalli and two from senior forward Rachael Booth put the game away 5-1. The win sent the RedHawks to the national championship game for the fourth time in four years.
“We knew that we lost to both of those teams prior, but we all were just so motivated and so together as one unit that we just knew that we weren’t going to lose those games if we all played together and for each other,” Mooney said. “It was a great attitude and great mood before the game.”
After decisive victories throughout the tournament, the RedHawks were sluggish to open the championship game against Liberty University. Goaltender Wills gave her team a chance stopping all 19 of the Flames’ shots in the first period.
The Flames found the back of the net first on a 4-on-3 power play in the second period, but junior defenseman Nicole Matthews nudged a loose puck past LU’s goaltender and sent the RedHawks into the second intermission with a 1-1 tie.
The RedHawks flew into the third period, outshooting the Flames 13-2. The offensive pressure resulted in the go-ahead goal from Kaley Mooney and the Flames couldn’t phase Wills. LU’s final push came after pulling their goaltender but senior defenseman Jordan Hanson halted hopes of a comeback with her empty net goal to make it 3-1 with 1:48 to go.
Kaley Mooney sealed the deal with another empty net goal and Wills stopped 28 of the 29 pucks she faced, as the RedHawks went on to win their third championship in four years.
Only one other ACHA program has won back to back championships.
“Our experience in the tournaments and our experience in big games with all the seniors and juniors that we have I think it was a big positive for us and something that we definitely leaned on when we had some tight moments or when we had some games that were closer than we wanted at that point,” head coach Scott Hicks said. “The moment wasn’t too big, we were able to play with poise and stick to our game plan in tight situations and find a way.”
The six seniors on the team now wear three championship rings to commemorate their time at Miami.
“It was so exciting. One thing that I appreciated was that the girls that are younger on the team, they talked about how they wanted to win for the senior class because there’s six of us seniors and that was our last game ever,” Mooney said. “It meant a lot to us – how much they cared to win for us. We were just so excited and it was a great celebration, especially back to back with pretty much the same team as last year.”
For a women’s club hockey program that was non-existent and wildly less successful several years ago, the seniors have built the team up to its national champions caliber that it is today.
Visalli was named the ACHA’s tournament MVP. Ireland Mooney and Booth had three goals and four points each in the tournament. Kaley Mooney had her two championship game goals and four assists. The RedHawks were a well-balanced team, as the other points from the tournament came from 10 other players.
The team came back to Oxford with the big championship trophy and won’t start practice until the fall; they’ll wait until then to look to next spring and another chance to make history. For now, though, the RedHawks will relish in their historic victory.
“It’s kind of the end of the year, but it’s something that will live with you forever and this team will always have that bond as a championship team,” Hicks said.
Mooney echoes her coach’s sentiments, “This year, it was different because, for me and for the six seniors, it’s our last game ever playing competitive hockey. After doing something for most of our lives, it was hard to believe that that was the last game of something that you’ve done for your whole life. And this year, doing it back to back and that being our last game ever was just the icing on the cake. Finishing off my hockey career, as well as my teammates’ career, with a National Championship win.”