Understanding Wilde Lake coach Karen Dorrier's smile after a 3-1 win over perennial county champion Glenelg (1-2-1) yesterday went beyond the obvious reason.
A year ago, the Wildecats struggled through a 2-10 rebuilding campaign, scoring just 10 goals.
Wilde Lake's convincing victory over the Gladiators, winners of eight out of the past 16 county championships, punctuates what a difference a year's experience can make as the 15th-ranked Wildecats (4-2-1) posted their fourth consecutive win.
"I think with this game the girls finally realized that they are as good as I've said they were," said Dorrier, in her second year as coach. "Today I really saw the confidence in them. Glenelg really held us in the second half, however, so it wasn't an easy game."
Wilde Lake senior forward and leading scorer Maggie Barker took care of any of her teammates' pre-game doubts by giving the Wildecats a 1-0 lead at 7:20 of the first half.
Barker's front-line teammate, Karen Sutton, provided the Wildecats with a 2-0 advantage by scoring off a pass from senior forward Kristin Thompson.
"Once we get that first goal we realize we can dominate," said Sutton. "When we were stretching before this game we were nervous. We're not a big fall sport around here. We've never had the fame. But now we're ranked No. 15."
Sutton added an insurance goal with 1:28 left in the first half as Wilde Lake built a 3-0 lead going into intermission.
"Wilde Lake was a lot more aggressive and their type of play intimidated my kids," Glenelg coach Ginger Kincaid said. "The referees really let them run over my players and butt them off the ball."
With Wilde Lake content to play conservatively on offense for the final 30 minutes, Glenelg applied constant second-half pressure to the Wildecats' defense and senior goalie Jayme Kantor (four saves).
The Gladiators, however, were only able to avoid a shutout. Senior forward Emily Chayt's goal with 3:10 remaining was Glenelg's lone offensive highlight.
Glenelg, having graduated its entire starting unit from last year's state championship team, has reloaded with new talent, which Kincaid said is not the reason for the Gladiators' sluggish start.
"The biggest difference in hockey in general is the new way that obstruction is being called," Kincaid said, referring to a reinterpretation of the rule that has opened up offensive opportunities.
"Everybody has to refigure out what to do, so it's not the personnel. My team is as talented as a year ago, but right now you can turn around and get away with it. Until that's settled, you'll see a lot of shake-up in the top 15 rankings."