Don’t use the “s” word around Mikayla Wilker while the Owatonna girls’ hockey team is holding their opponent without a goal. The junior goalie prefers no one say ‘shutout.’ Not everyone adheres to that philosophy, “I don’t think about it, but there is one specific player on the team. I will not call her out, because I have in front of the whole team. But she always says the ‘s’ word, during the second period usually.”
Despite that superstition, Wilker has eight shutouts on the season as of Jan. 28, alongside a stingy 1.53 goals against average. She also had two shutouts as a sophomore. The team was just on a streak of three straight shutouts inside a stretch of more than 200 scoreless minutes spanning five games. It started against Northfield on January 12 and ended in Red Wing on January 24.
Wilker says she’s gotten more relaxed between the pipes since the beginning of the season, but also credits the whole team for the shutout streak, “We’ve been working on our ‘d’ zone a lot. So that helped a lot. My defense has been working their butts off. They will clear every puck they can. They keep kids off of me. They’re the best.”
There was no more of a game that involved positive team mojo than against Northfield at Four Seasons Center. The Huskies fell behind 4-0. Sophomore Leah Spencer started in goal but was replaced by Wilker. Due to limits on periods played, Spencer was reinserted later back into the game. The Huskies stormed back to win 5-4 in overtime.
“That was a really good game for us. I think we grew a lot as a team,” stated Wilker. “Whenever [Spencer] is in net for varsity, I will always talk to her in the locker room. Keep her centered and everything. Make sure she’s all good. I love Leah. She’s my best buddy…I think it was good for Leah too. To get out there. Get some real shots from Northfield.”
Like other netminders I’ve spoken with over the years, the goalie gear was a drawing point for Wilker, “I always thought that goaltending looked really cool. The gear looked cool first. And I was, like, I want to wear that.” She got her first set of pads from former OHS coach Tim Hunst.
The girls’ hockey squad celebrated another milestone last week when senior defenseman Abby Vetsch reached 100 career points. She was excited to reach the century mark on a special goal for Morgan Macy, “I was super happy. Her first goal was my 100th point. So, I thought that was really cool. A unique experience to share with her.” Vetsch’s first point was a goal in Austin her eighth-grade year.
Her sophomore sister Averie is a forward, “She’s been a huge role model for me, someone I can always look up to. I’m super happy.” She appreciates the chance to play with Abby, “I’ve really enjoyed it. I think it’s a really fun experience to be playing with my older sister.”
Abby echoes those sentiments, “My older sister and I aren’t in the same sports. So, being able to share a similar sport with my younger sister is really awesome. And just being able to be there for a lot of her firsts, like her first varsity goal. I was there and I thought that was really cool.” Abby has occasionally set up Averi for a goal. The two combined occasionally in soccer as well.
Rivalries exist on which of the two on who is faster on skates, and taller, but Abby says they mostly get along, “The way that we bond and that we connect off and, on the field, off and the ice rink, we usually don’t argue that much.”
The family ties extend to the coaching staff with their father Mike as an assistant. “I’ve coached these girls at a youth level, from park and rec all the way up to the youth until high school. So, this is a good opportunity to get back in the game and coach. Good news is to have a couple of daughters on the team has been fun.”
SOUVENIRS FOR (ALMOST) EVERYONE
Each time the OHS boys’ hockey team scores a goal this season, there’s a chance a souvenir puck is needed. No game epitomized that more than Tuesday, January 24 when three players scored their first varsity goal. Junior Ethan Fitch did more than that, by also notching his second goal. Senior Charles Valento and sophomore Isaiah Hooper each struck historic paydirt.
Junior Brody Goodnature and sophomore Andrew Mitchell opened the season with goals to begin their high school careers. Since then, senior Andrew Skov, juniors Thomas Herzog, Jack Strom, Justin Beman, Mark Spurgeon, Devin Born, and sophomore Zach Knott have each lit the lamp for their first varsity goal. Additionally, senior goalie Porter Kuchenbecker earned his first varsity win in the season opener. All-in-all that’s 13 keepsake pucks.
The Huskies graduated 19 seniors off the 2021-22 team, representing 76% of the goals scored. Of the 18 goals returning from last season, 13 of them belong to junior Owen Beyer who is out with a back injury. Junior Joseph Webster scored four goals last year and Benny Bangs had one. Junior goalie Brennan Sletten made an emergency start last season in Albert Lea, picking up his first varsity win as a sophomore.
Junior goalie Jack Kelvie skated out during the junior varsity game against Red Wing on January 24 scoring his first goal since squirts according to his father, setting off an enthusiastic celebration by his teammates, family, and fans.
Medford basketball plays in a tough conference and section. Adding to the challenge is a short roster for the basketball teams this winter. The players are using that as a motivating factor. Captain Grace Keller told the Owatonna Live Coaches Show that practice is a good time to come together, “The biggest thing is encouraging my teammates. I like to yell for not really an apparent reason, and I think it gets the girls going, and I like that. Pick up everybody and make sure everyone’s in a good mood.”
Support from friends and family goes a long way. Captain Andrea Bock looks up to her grandpa, “He coached basketball a lot of his life. He played. He loves the sport, loves to talk to me about it, and helps me fix my game. He always tells me, shoot the ball. Shoot the ball.”
That attitude is important for the Tigers, “We’ve just got to look for those early shots. We’re not really big. So we can’t really drive in the lane and get a shot up in there because most of the girls tower over us. So we’ve just got to look for that outside jumper.”
On defense, “Our communication is the biggest thing,” says Keller. “We got to keep working on that. Because if we can talk and communicate with whom we have, then we’ll be good. Our defense is definitely our strong point and we got to keep improving that.” Keller was recently named the Academics, Arts, and Athletics subregion award winner.
MANY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE
Mark Kubat is in his 14th season with the Tigers and enjoys working alongside Medford Hall of Fame member Pat Heger, “She knows everything. She’s been around so much and Jay Reuvers also coaches with us at the high school level…We’ve got a lot of years of experience here.”
“What we’re working on is continuous improvement,” he says. The squad has just a 12-player roster and battled through some illness around Christmastime. With a lack of height, “We have to get a body on somebody. We have to block out. Because this year the Gopher Conference is the toughest, top to bottom, it’s been since I’ve been here, by far. And everybody’s big.”
OWATONNA LIVE SCHEDULE
Thursday, February 2
OHS boys’ swim and dive vs Mankato East, 6:30 pm
OHS boys’ hockey vs Farmington, 7 pm
OHS boys’ basketball vs Rochester Century, 7:30 pm
Friday, February 3
Medford girls’ basketball vs Randolph, 7:15 pm
Saturday, February 4
Owatonna Dance Team, Community Show, 12 pm
OHS boys’ hockey vs Northfield, 7 pm
OHS girls’ basketball vs Austin, 7:30 pm
Sunday, February 5
Family Feud fundraiser, 7 pm (Trinity Lutheran Church)