The 2013-14 season marks the sixth full year that the women’s hockey team will be led by Head Coach Jodi McKenna. McKenna has a long line of credentials behind her: she took a year off from coaching the Cardinals in the 2009-2010 season because she was chosen by Team USA to serve as an assistant coach in the 2010 Winter Olympics. There, she helped the team earn a silver medal.
While McKenna has the talent for coaching, she has been unable to translate it into success at Wesleyan in recent years. Last season, her team went 2-14, and was the only team in the NESCAC to miss out on the postseason. McKenna sat down with The Argus to talk about past struggles, the opening weekend with Williams, and her hopes of turning things around.
The Argus: First game of the season: you’re playing Williams, a Little Three rival, and time is ticking down in the third period with a tied score. Then, boom: Jessica Brennan, a freshman, nets a power play goal that turns out to be the game winner. How big was that moment?
Jodi McKenna: I think it’s, you know, big in a couple ways. Obviously, for a freshman to be able to do that, to step up in a tight moment, bodes well for the future. You know, to be able to handle that sort of pressure and come through in the clutch. But also, from where our program has come, in those tight moments late in the game, perhaps in the past couple of years, we would have folded, or we wouldn’t have been able to live up to the pressure. And I think that’s one thing that the freshman class has done for us. Obviously, they’ve made some big contributions on the ice already, but they’ve also injected a really nice shot of adrenaline.
A: Last season was an obvious struggle, and the 2012-2013 squad was the only team to miss the postseason. Yet two games in, you’ve already got a big rivalry win in hostile territory. What’s different for the team this year?
JM: Maturity in the players that we have here. You know, believing in where we’re going, that intangible factor has been huge for us. Since they’ve gotten here, the seniors have believed that this program can make strides: it can get better and be a different program than what we’ve had here in the past. That alone has propelled us in a lot of different ways. It sets a good example for the younger players coming up, but it’s also pushed everyone to get better.
A: The women’s hockey team seems to have the Ephs’ number pretty regularly, having beat Williams at least once in each of the past three seasons. Is this a mere coincidence?
JM: I don’t think so. I think we’ve been able to show, in the past, glimmers of what we’re capable of, and first game of the season, you’re super excited to play. You sort of just let instincts take over, and just the natural ability to play takes over. I think that’s what’s been helpful in the past, and hopefully we can capitalize on that this season as well.
A: What sort of coach do you aspire to be? How do you see your role in the team’s potential success?
JM: If I can help the players develop on the ice in the time that they’re here, but also if I can help them develop outside of hockey—you know, they can become more confident, and more able to achieve the dreams that they have—if I can, in some small way, push them to that, or help them to that, I think that’s ultimately my job.
A: Last year, you graduated your starter in goal, Ashleigh Corvi ’13. Are you making any changes on defense to help settle in your new goaltenders?
JM: We have some new people on defense, and I think the combination of the young defenders that came in this year as well as just the maturation of the defensive core that is already here will provide a good boost for the sophomores that we think will help carry the weight in goal.
A: You’ve got a good core of scorers on the team this year, led up by Jordan Schildhaus ’15. What are you looking to do strategically to help them succeed?
JM: I think if we can build a little bit more depth throughout our lineup in a sense of having—yeah, we’ll rely on that group to provide a lot of offense—but if we can also pinpoint other players to carry some of that load, it takes the pressure off of them. And so, when that happens, when the pressure’s off, you can do more things offensively. So building more of a five-man attack instead of just the forwards is what we want to do. I think with our speed on defense we’ll be able to build a more complete attacking team.
A: NESCAC opponents are probably not expecting much out of the Redbirds this year, after a 2-14 season last year. Do you think underestimation on their part is something that you can look to take advantage of?
JM: I think that’s certainly something we’ll face throughout the season, and that’s something that we’ve already talked about as a team. People will only look back at what you’ve done, you know, it’s a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ sort of thing, and we haven’t done much of late. So, it’s not necessarily that we’re counting on that, but we recognize that we might be able to take some people by surprise.
A: Do you think a playoff run is in the Cards this year?
JM: I certainly think so. It’s not our goal to just make playoffs by the finest of margins. We want to be a presence in the league throughout the season, and we want to establish ourselves heading into the postseason. Anything can happen in a one-game playoff.
A: How important is it for you, personally, to turn this program around?
JM: It is my life’s work, no joke. It’s something that I take great pride in, even in how far we’ve come. I know it doesn’t show in the records, but for those inside this program, we know what the steps that we’ve taken are, and it’s a tremendous sort of pride to be able to take that even further. To show alumni, you know, we stand on the shoulders of past alumni, and for us to really live up to that, we have to turn this program around. We have to turn around the NESCAC standings. I think you get a sense that the whole athletic program here is turning in a new direction, and we want to be a part of that. I don’t want it for myself necessarily, but I know how this team has worked, and all the girls I’ve coached over the past few years, they’ve wanted it so badly.