Eau Claire (WQOW) -- The weekend wait was worth it for the UW-Eau Claire women's hockey team, which found out Monday morning that it had gotten an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Saturday afternoon, the Blugolds celebrated their first-ever WIAC Tournament title after an overtime win at UW-River Falls, and there was more celebrating in the UWEC locker room Monday morning when the team watched the NCAA online selection show.
Monday afternoon, the team was back at Hobbs Ice Center for a light workout. The Blugolds want to enjoy their accomplishment, but it's also time to get ready for the next step in this season's journey.
"We talked about it today, enjoy today," says UWEC head coach Erik Strand, "this is something that you don't turn the page on because it is so special. When we go to bed tonight, today is over. Tomorrow we come back to the rink and this is business from here on out. If we think that it's mission accomplished and we can just go out and have a little fun now, it's going to be a very short experience for this group."
"I think it starts here at practice," says UWEC senior forward Mariah Czech, who scored the game-winning OT goal against UWRF, "coming to the rink, visualizing what we're going to do, never giving up. So it starts here. It's Monday through Thursday, and then come Friday, it's gametime."
Going to the NCAA tournament is a thrill for everyone in the program, past and present players included, although it's extra special for those seniors who took a lot of losses early in their careers, but who helped turn things around.
"Here's the thing, we only won five games our freshman year, so this is huge for us," says UWEC senior forward Jaedyn Walz, "and not only to just win a WIAC championship, but then this morning to find out we're going to nationals, you can't put it into words, really."
"Going from that, starting from the bottom and making it to the top,it's so awesome," says Czech, "playing against tougher teams, we kind of could gauge our success off that, playing Adrian, playing River Falls a couple times, so I mean, we had those doubts during the year, but we did it."
"To be selected is such a priceless emotion, for our players," says Strand, "especially our seniors, who took a chance on this program before to ride both sides of it, to the success where we're at right now, it means so much."
UW-Eau Claire will travel to Gustavus Adolphus (MN), for a 7:00 P.M. game, Friday, at Don Roberts Rink in St. Peter, Minnesota, which is the home rink for Gustavus. Friday's winner will face Hamline (MN), Saturday, at 7:00 P.M., also at Don Roberts Rink.