“We definitely have a strong team this year”
by Than Acuff
Last year, the West Elk Hockey Association (WEHA) Wolverines u19 girls’ team ran roughshod through the post season rattling off five wins in a row to take the Mountain States Girls Hockey League title. It was their third title in the past six years and a great way for longtime local hockey coach/parent/ supporter GJ Santelli to close out his career.
This year, the team looks to continue their winning ways as they hit the ice starting in mid-October with a completely new coaching staff, at least new to the position but not new to the program.
Former Gunnison Blades player Jena D’Aquila has now taken over the reigns of the u19 girls hockey program as the head coach and looks to continue building on what her predecessors GJ Santelli, Tony Lambert and Katie Brawner left behind.
D’Aquila had the fortune of playing for both Lambert and Santelli growing up in the local hockey program. She spent last season as the WEHA u12 coach and was called on to move up to the u19 age level for the 2017-2018 season.
“I really enjoyed coaching the u12 but there was a greater need at the u19 level so I moved up,” says D’Aquila. “It’s different but it’s been fun so far.”
Her assistant coaches this year are home grown players as well. D’Aquila’s sister Jessica Brown is a former Blade as is Christian Cavarra, who played on the boys program, and both are joining her on the bench.
The three coaches have eight skaters out this year full time, 12 if you factor in some players from the u16 program who will be playing on both teams all winter, and they’ve been diligent in their preseason workouts with two days on the ice and a third day of dry land training.
“So far it’s been good, a lot of skating,” says D’Aquila. “I didn’t know how well the dry land training would go but it’s actually going pretty well.”
Given the background of all three coaches, a lot of systems are in place from the past years but D’Aquila is looking to embellish further on what the players already know.
“We’ve been honing in on what they’ve been doing in the past and tapping into that but we’re also working on developing new skills where we can,” explains D’Aquila.
Ultimately it comes down to the players though and their talent and commitment and so far D’Aquila likes what she sees.
“We lost some strong seniors but I’m definitely surprised with how the girls have stepped up,” says D’Aquila. “They’re really strong both mentally and physically.”
D’Aquila’s younger sister Sierra and Elizabeth Shaw are returning veterans with Shaw coming back after missing last season due to injury.
“We’re definitely excited to have her back,” says D’Aquila of Shaw.
They also have the huge advantage of having goalie Anika Anderson standings between the pipes again. Anderson was the top goaltender in the league last year and was a major part of the Wolverines’ post-season run as fatigue was setting in on the small squad.
“She’s a strong goalie and we’re fortunate to have her in there,” says D’Aquila.
The rest of the team consists of players that got major minutes last year as well so their experience on the ice in games bodes well for the Wolverines this year. They also picked a player from Delta who played her formative years in Grand Junction.
“She’s a super strong skater so we’re lucky to have her,” says D’Aquila.
The Wolverines will continue with their workouts three times a week through the first two weeks of December and then open league play hosting Colorado Select at Jorgenson Ice Arena on Saturday, December 16. Despite the loss of seniors to graduation and the short bench, D’Aquila is looking forward to another strong Wolverines season.
“We definitely have a strong team this year,” says D’Aquila.