BY MARGARET BAGLEY
The Rye youth hockey community will be represented on a very big stage later this month, at the USA Hockey National Tournament, April 28-May 3, in Denver, Colorado.
Rye Middle School students Clara Cumming and Emma Leahy and Rye Country Day School eighth graders Julia Heintz and Estelle Maggard all play for the Mamaroneck Youth Hockey Association Girls 14U team. Their April 11 second-place finish at the NYSAHA Tier II Girls State Tournament led to a hard-earned at-large berth at the upcoming Nationals.
“The energy was crazy,” said Julia Heintz, the team captain, after the State tournament, which took place in Niagara Falls. “We played our hearts out and we are honored to have a chance to compete at a higher level. We are more than teammates; we are a family.”
All four girls played co-ed hockey with the Rye Rangers before joining the girls-only team. Bill Steers, a former president of the Rye Rangers, explained, “Most girls are happy to play with the boys until age 13, which is when checking starts. At that age, many girls start looking to play on girls-only teams. Until recently, there were no girls-only youth hockey programs in Westchester.”
That all changed a few years ago, when Mamaroneck approached the Rye Rangers and asked if they had enough girls and interest to join forces to create girls-only teams. Steers, who now helps lead the collaborative effort, said, “The program has taken off, and we now have girls’ teams from 10U to 19U, attracting players from all over Westchester.”
In fact, three of the MYHA girls’ teams qualified for States earlier this month, with players representing Rye, Rye Neck, and Rye Country Day School. Amelia Ahrens, Emma Budke, Harley Caggiano, and Julia DeLitta played for the 19U team, and the 16U team included Payton Caggiano, Morgan Daily, Izzy Godden, and Charlotte Holtby.
The 14U girls, who finished their regular season with an impressive 22-9-1 record, will be the first team in MYHA’s 26-year history to advance to Nationals. Liz Rizzo, former Ohio State forward, and the girls’ head coach, said, “We were so happy to have this much-needed outlet, even though it wasn’t always easy to practice or compete, with all the Covid restrictions and interruptions. But these girls persevered, and I am so excited to take them to Nationals.”
Girls’ hockey is among the fastest-growing youth sport in the United States, and it’s easy to see why. As Leahy, one of the approximately 60 girls who play for the Rye Rangers, put it, “Hockey is such a fast-moving game. There’s a rush of adrenaline when you step on the ice that’s like no other.”