By Becca Neuger
FOR THE LAKER
Mound Westonka High School seniors Liz Schepers and Emma Polusny were recently named semifinalists for two of Minnesota’s top high school hockey awards.
On Feb. 2, Let’s Play Hockey announced the list of semifinalists for the 2017 Ms. Hockey Award, which will be presented to the top senior girls high school hockey player in the state. White Hawks forward Schepers, who will be joining the Ohio State Buckeyes next season, made the list, along with nine other NCAA Division-I commits.
Also announced Thursday were the 10 semifinalists for the 2017 Let’s Play Hockey Senior Goalie of the Year Award, presented to the top senior girls’ high school hockey goaltender in Minnesota. Polusny has been starting goaltender for the White Hawks since she was in eighth grade and has committed to playing DI hockey at St. Cloud State next season.
“Emma Polusny and Liz Schepers are great leaders in so many ways,” said Westonka Activities Director Jeff Peterson. “They are outstanding students and they lead by example and have the uncanny ability to make others better around them.”
“They have worked hard to get our team to this level, and I know for a fact they will put our team in front of any individual recognition,” Peterson added. “I wish them the best of luck as they head into the section tournament.”
In addition to on-ice talent, criteria for both of the statewide awards include include academics, community/extracurricular activities, citizenship and coachability. The awards are sponsored by Let’s Play Hockey and the Minnesota Wild.
Minnesota Ms. Hockey Award
All 10 players named as semifinalists for Minnesota Ms. Hockey are committed to a Division I school for next season, including seven in the WCHA. The semifinalists have scored an average of 22 goals and 19 assists this season for their respective teams. All 10 student-athletes have also been bound to the textbooks for the past several years as they check in with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.79.
Finalists are: Paige Beebe, Forward, Blaine (Bemidji State); Grace Bowlby, Defense, Edina (Wisconsin); Emily Brown, Defense, Blaine (Minnesota); Natalie Heising, Forward, Wayzata (Penn State); Joie Phelps, Forward, St. Paul United (Cornell); Naomi Rogge, Forward, Eden Prairie (Minnesota Duluth); Liz Schepers, Forward, Mound Westonka (Ohio State); Natalie Snodgrass, Forward, Eastview (UConn); Taylor Wente, Forward, Maple Grove (Minnesota); Grace Zumwinkle, Forward, Breck (Minnesota)
Schepers said that she was “a little surprised” but honored to be recognized with such a talented group of DI commits and national team members.
“I have a lot of respect for all the nominees and am fortunate to play with them all in the summer,” said Schepers. “They easily could have made another list of 10 players that are just as deserving, so I’m just really humbled to have made the cut.”
Schepers added, “This says a lot about my teammates and coaches. I wouldn’t have this opportunity without their hard work as well.”
Schepers’ coaches call her a role model for her White Hawks teammates. “Liz is a fierce competitor that brings our team’s level of play to a whole new level,” said White Hawks head coach Jack Gravel. “She has a way of scoring goals, but she also finds a way to pass the puck and set-up plays.”
The five finalists for the Ms. Hockey Award will be named in the Feb. 16 edition of Let’s Play Hockey with the winner announced at the Ms. Hockey Awards Banquet on Sunday, Feb. 26, at 9:30 a.m., at the St. Paul RiverCentre.
Senior Goalie of the Year Award
The 10 semifinalists for Senior Goalie of the Year combine for a 1.77 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and a grade-point average of 3.66.
Finalists are: Breanna Blesi, Maple Grove (Wisconsin); Annika Carlander, Hopkins/Park; Madeline Carlson, Orono; Sydney Culshaw, New Prague; Sarah Finley, Alexandria; Coco Francis, Maple Grove (Union); Anna Goldstein, Edina (Middlebury); Elizabeth Kubicek, Minnetonka; Emma Polusny, Mound Westonka (St. Cloud State); Gabby Suhr, Dodge County (Northland)
Polusny said that being named Senior Goalie of the Year has been one of her goals since she started high school, but she only has one goal in mind these days: getting back to state. “My number one goal right now is getting to the state tournament,” said Polusny. “All the other awards are not really on my mind right now.”
According to her coaches, Polusny is the type of player that every coach dreams of having on their team. She is a two-time captain for the White Hawks and is well-respected by her teammates.
“Every time she hits the ice she is focused, determined and ready to play,” said coach Gravel. “Emma is an amazing leader for our team, both on and off the ice. She cares deeply about her teammates, coaches and her community.
The five finalists for the Senior Goalie of the Year award will be named in the Feb. 9 edition of Let’s Play Hockey with the winner announced at the Ms. Hockey Awards Banquet on Feb. 26. Other awards that will be presented at the banquet include the Minnesota Girls High School Hockey Coaches Association’s Coaches of the Year and the All-State and All-Academic award winners for the 2016-2017 season. Fox 9’s Dawn Mitchell will serve as the banquet emcee.
Sights set on St. Paul
After claiming their second consecutive Wright County Conference title on Feb. 3, members of the MWHS girls hockey team have their sights set on St. Paul for the MSHSL State Tournament. Both Schepers and Polusny were members of the White Hawks’ 2013 state tournament team as eighth-graders and consider it the highlight of their hockey careers thus far.
On competing at state, Polusny said, “It was a tremendous experience, and I have been hoping to get back to that point ever since.” Schepers echoed Polusny saying, “There is nothing like it, and I hope this team gets to experience it.”
The White Hawks open Section AA Tournament play on Thursday, Feb. 9, with a home game against Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato. The game starts at 7 p.m. at Thaler Arena.