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Girls hockey: Section final loss propelled Irish to best season ever

It doesn't take Rosemount girls hockey coach Tracy Cassano long to point out exactly when the Irish started their trek to the best season in school history.

In fact, Cassano knows the exact day -- Feb. 17, 2010.

Rosemount finished this season with the best record in school history and advanced to the state tournament for the first time. Yet, it was the loss in last year's section finals that propelled the Irish this time around.

"I think that everybody worked really hard all season," Cassano said. "Losing that section final game was just such a huge motivator. Individually, they worked hard in the offseason to get better and to get back to that game. Collectively as a team, we had the goal set from Feb. 17, 2010. I believe then everybody made the decision to work hard to get to back to that point. The girls were driven, dedicated and made the sacrifice to put the team first to accomplish our goal of making it to the state tournament."

Cassano likely won't soon forget Feb. 16, 2011. Rosemount beat Eastview, 6-2, to win its first section title.

The Irish ended the season with losses to Edina and Lakeville South in the state tournament, but the finish wasn't going to overshadow a season in which Rosemount finished 22-7-1 overall. The Irish placed second in the South Suburban Conference with a 14-3-1 mark and was ranked No. 9 in the final Class 2A regular season poll.

"I was just really proud," Cassano said. "It was such an amazing season. So many different, exciting things happened throughout the season. How many games we won was outstanding, very fun. We were second in the conference and we think we have one of the toughest conferences in the state. I think it was such a positive thing. The record was great.

"Obviously the best part was going to the state tournament. It was icing on the cake. And beating Eastview, a rival school, to get there was fun."

Senior forward Rachael Kelly finished her Irish career by winning the team's most valuable player award. She shared the forward of the year award with linemate Taylor Sampson.

"It usually goes to one player, but we went with two this year," Cassano said. "They played pretty well together."

Kelly also earned all-conference and all-state honors and was second-team all-metro after finishing with 28 goals and 33 assists.

Sampson had 16 goals and 25 assists, joining Kelly on the all-conference team. Allison Micheletti and Kendra Goodrich were also all-conference. Lauren Riley, Caitlin Dantzscher and Alison Warweg were all-conference honorable mention.

Micheletti finished with 18 goals and 10 assists. Goodrich had 12 goals and eight assists, and was named the team's defensive player of the year as a sophomore.

Sampson, a junior, won the team's most improved player award, an honor Cassano felt could have gone to a number of players.

Sarah Tollefson scored nine goals and had 10 assists. Warweg finished with six goals and eight assists.

Dantzscher stopped 90.5 percent of the shots that came her way.

The accolades and statistics piled up quickly for the Irish, adding to the special season.

"I think its fitting this is the first team in school history to go to the girls hockey state tournament," Cassano said. "They worked hard. I am really, really proud of the kids. They were a part of something this year, something that will be in the record books, a part of Rosemount school history and the program's history that can never be taken away from them. It's something they can look back on and know it was pretty special to be a part of that."

Amanda Wilson earned the team's most outstanding academic award and was also honored with a state academic award. The Irish award went to Riley and Warweg took home the team's unsung hero award.

Hannah Esselman won the team's hustle award.

Five seniors -- Warweg, Wilson, Micheletti, Kelly, and Tollefson -- move on, but an experienced group still returns for Rosemount.

"Those five seniors have really been the core leaders, been with our program for four or five years," Cassano said. "I do think they were a very key part in the team's success this year. They led by example and will be greatly missed.

"They have left behind a program in a better spot than they found it and I think they have taught the younger kids that winning breeds winning."

And with that message, the Irish might have a few more memorable dates in their future.