Confidence and camaraderie elevates Rogers
Early-season success has Royals unified under new coach Emily Achterkirch
Monday, December 6, 2021
If there’s one word that describes the 2021-2022 Rogers High School girls hockey team, it’s relentless.
In her first season as a head coach, Emily Achterkirch’s squad holds onto the No. 20 spot in Class 2A and boasts a 5-2 record a little over a month into the season. The Royals’ two losses came to No.1 Edina and No. 2 Andover, both by one goal.
“I think that (relentless) is describing us right now; we're never giving up in games, we're always on the other team and working hard in practice, ” senior captain and leading scorer Avery Farrell said.
The Royals definitely did not give up in their game against Edina on Nov. 23, taking the top-ranked team in the state to overtime. Rogers fell in a 3-2 heartbreaker, but it gave Achterkirch newfound confidence in her team.
“It was really the first big task that we've had this season, and to come out of it with an overtime loss, I think, was really exciting for us and proved to us what we can actually do this season,” Achterkirch said.
Beyond giving herself confidence in her team, it also gave her players faith in their abilities.
“We always get excited for those big games like that,” Farrell said. “We wanted to really test ourselves and see where exactly we were at, and it did give us confidence, even though we lost. We were right there with them the whole time, so it was a good game for us.”
Rogers senior captain Avery Farrell.
Achterkirch could see that there were times when her team was “dominating the game” and “going back and forth” with Edina, and credits her team’s first big test as having taught her a lot.
“I think the biggest thing, from a coach's perspective, that we learned is having confidence in ourselves was the biggest thing,” Achterkirch said. “We started off a little bit nervous … and I think as the game went on, we got more and more and more confident in ourselves.”
A large part of her coaching philosophy has been built around confidence.
“Something I think is super important for women athletes, in general, is confidence and believing in yourself,” Achterkirch said. “I think building a culture around that has been really important for our coaching staff and … it's really great to hear that players are feeling it and believing in themselves, too.”
“Something I think is super important for women athletes, in general, is confidence and believing in yourself. I think building a culture around that has been really important for our coaching staff and it's really great to hear that players are feeling it and believing in themselves, too.” -head coach Emily Achterkirch
The Rogers coaching staff consists of four new additions and one returning staff member from the 2020-2021 season. Beyond Achterkirch as head coach, the Royals have two new assistant coaches and a new goalie coach who have also contributed to the team’s success.
Achterkirch was an assistant coach at Armstrong/Cooper last year and has enjoyed her time as a head coach at Rogers but does admit there are a few things she misses about being an assistant.
“It's fun to be a leader for the team, and I think, for me being a head coach, I don't get to necessarily be as close with the players as far as discussing specific position things, so I think that's a little bit different and something I miss a little bit,” Achterkirch said.
Despite missing some things, she appreciates the opportunity to be a leader for her team. “I really enjoy being able to pull together the whole cohesive team part of it, especially with having such a great group of girls,” she said. “It makes our coaches’ jobs really easy.”
However, with any team getting a nearly entirely new coaching staff, there are a lot of unknowns—something Farrell and her teammates experienced tremendously before the 2021-2022 season began.
“We knew our abilities going into it, and we were a little bit nervous,” Farrell said. “We could have gotten a really good coach that could’ve really helped us or not. You don't know what you're going to get, so I think we got really lucky and we're really happy about it.”
Farrell’s favorite part of the season thus far has been the breath of fresh air that Achterkirch and the other new coaches have brought. “I am loving our coaching staff and how they have really believed in us from the start and just given us so much confidence and are helping us,” Farrell said.
Royals head coach Emily Achterkirch addresses her team from the bench in a recent game.
According to Farrell, the Royals have struggled with bouts of drama in past years, but the team has not had such issues and are a more “cohesive” group this season. “I think we are very closely knit; you have seniors that are best friends with the freshmen and we're all just basically sisters here,” Farrell said.
Achterkirch may not have been there to experience the team’s past troubles, but she agrees with her player’s sentiment. “It's really exciting, from a coach's perspective, that when we come to the rink for practice and we go in the locker room, everyone is just kind of hanging out in the camaraderie of the team,” Achterkirch said. “It's really fun to see.”
Beyond just having chemistry on the ice, the team does many activities and events outside of hockey to foster the culture. One of the traditions that they have is called “pasta feast,” which is a team meal provided by parents the night before most of the Royals’ home games.
Achterkirch and the rest of the coaches are invited to “pasta feast” but usually stay away to allow the players to bond more. “I think it’s a really good time for the girls to bond without (the coaches),” Achterkirch said.
Rogers senior forward Paige Vreeman.
Beyond team meals, the girls also do Secret Santa that culminates in a team holiday sleepover. This year, they also participated in a tie blanket-making event as a team in support of Sophie’s Squad, a charity founded in 2021 to improve mental health of young athletes by raising awareness of mental health issues.
Farrell is grateful for her time at Rogers, citing that her time there has taught her the responsibility of leadership. “In the past, I feel like I was looking up to the seniors and captains, and they helped me along a lot,” Farrell said. “Now that I’m a captain, I get to be that role model for the younger girls; I get to teach them what to do or what’s good behavior, what you should be acting like in the locker room and on the ice.”
Some hockey teams have a standout star and some have an impenetrable defense or a stellar group of forwards, but Achterkirch believes her team has balance across the ice that allows them to be successful and will help them on the road to the state tournament.
Coach Achterkirch has two junior goaltenders she has confidence in. Lauren Larson (pictured) and Alexa Backmann.
“I think we're a very balanced team,” Achterkirch said. “We have very solid goaltenders that we trust in any game; we have very solid defense that we trust in every game, and not only do our defense do a really good job of defending, but they quarterback offensive plays.”
The team has four lines and five solid defenders that the young coach trusts to play in any game, but if she had to choose one player that stands out the most to her, it would be Farrell.
“I feel like Avery is one of those standout superstars, not only on the ice and on the scoreboard, but as a person in general, too,” Achterkirch said. “We can always count on her to be out on the ice, setting the pace of the game, setting the tone for the game, really showing our team what it takes to be a really great hockey player and her competitiveness and the work ethic really make her a standout superstar on our team.”
After the season, Farrell will be attending Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire to play hockey and possibly join the Physician Assistant program. However, Farrell and Achterkirch are focused on this season and their ultimate goal: making the state tournament.
“We did our goal-setting exercise on the second day (of practice) and where they want to be at the end of the season: everyone immediately said, ‘State!’” Achterkirch said. “It’s a big goal for us, and I think being so successful this early in the season is really giving us all the confidence that we can get there.”
Cam Kauffman can be reached at kauf8536 at stthomas.edu.
|10.||Centennial / SLP||10.800|