FINAL TEST: Warriors face No. 1-seeded team in first round of State this weekend

After the Waterloo Warriors hockey team claimed the 2017 state champion title, the team has worked in the 18-week long season to return to the state tournament this upcoming weekend, March 1-4 in Ames.

The Warriors have a 15-10 record, ranking them eighth in the state tournament. This not only adds to the pressure of success, but also encourages the team to work to its full potential.

“I feel like all the teams will play harder against us because we won last year, and bring a special intensity towards us,” senior Tyler Starbeck said.

Head coach Brian Cook said, “The team is excited and a little nervous. We are not going in as one of the top teams as we did last year, but they know that anything can happen down there. It is only three games. We have a couple guys who are injured, which gives them a little bit of reservation of their chances, but overall, I think we are in a pretty good place right now.”

The team has had several setbacks this season with injuries and suspensions, but the loss of a talented senior class has also held them back.

Sophomore Kole Latusick said, “We lost a core group of seniors that really carried our team last year, especially one guy. We have adapted to playing a very team-oriented game as we are a young team compared to most, and we try to use our creativity to our advantage.”

Senior Ben Boezinger said that the loss of a core group has been a learning experience for the team, but that has caused players to step up, taking their roles and filling in where needed.

“We definitely have a different group of guys,” he said. “We also have a very large core of the people who sat and watched the team win last year take a big part of this season, especially toward the end. We know what it takes to win, and we know how to do it and effectively use our people.”

The team has also had multiple setbacks with injuries and penalties toward the end of the season, which puts the team in a unique position going into the state tournament.

Cook said, “We’ve had some guys step up. Our biggest concern right now is that one of our top players is injured, and we don’t know if he will be able to play, and another one of our top players is suspended due to multiple penalties throughout the year. It is one of those years where we have been knocked down with injuries and suspensions. Hopefully, we will get down there, and there are no in or no outs of the playoffs, so it just takes a matter of playing well.”

One of the players who has stepped up this year is sophomore Kole Latusick. Latusick has had a very successful season, scoring 40 points for the team so far. With this, Latusick said he feels a pressure to not only do well for himself, but his team as well.

“The nerves may be a tad higher this year as I am a bigger part of the team this year and am held to high expectations to my teammates,” Latusick said.

Latusick has handled the pressure well and is confident that the team will pull through when it needs it the most.

“I’ve been able to handle (the pressure) all year. I have to keep the mindset that state is just another games, and I will be fine,” Latusick said.

The team is playing against the Sioux City Metros, who are ranked first in the Midwest High School Hockey league. The Warriors recently played them two weeks ago, which gives the team a feel for the game.

Cook said, “I think since we played them recently, it gives us confidence that we can play with them, and there will be no surprises in their special teams such as power play or penalty kill. Also the fact that sometimes it is hard for a team like that to beat a team three times in a row, so it gives us confidence. We also have a good idea who their top players are and what we need to do to give us a better chance of winning.”

Boezinger also mentions since the Metros recently beat the Warriors, they may overlook the team. “I think Sioux City will look over us since they are the first team we play, which will help us in the first two periods. I think we will be able to withstand the pressure that we put on them in the third and come away with a victory in the first game,” Boezinger said.

Senior Tyler Starbeck also said that the Metros will be tough on the Warriors.

“We know that the teams will be coming out hard against us, so we have been trying to come out strong at the beginning of the game, keeping the lead,” Starbeck said.

One of the most difficult aspects that the team has to face in the first round of State is that Sioux City was the team that they beat to claim their state title, which will be a rematch this year in the first game.

“I think we have an advantage, but it will add to the pressure that was already there as it is a rematch to last year’s state championship game” Latusick said.

That first game will be the true test for the Warriors, and if they make it through, the sky’s the limit.

“I think the biggest challenge is to get through the first game,” Cook said. “If we can get through the first game, then everything is wide open. We will have a great chance to win it all, but getting through the first game will be hard. We are playing a top team in the league, and that is the team we beat last year at the championship, so they kind of have ship on their shoulder. If we can get through that and play disciplined, then we will be OK.”

With a championship weighing heavy on the team’s shoulders, it seems as though he players would have high pressure to repeat the victory. However, senior Coulter Dupree reflected on feelings going into State as his final games as a Warrior.

“There isn’t much pressure since we are going in as 8th seed,” he said. “We are just going to go out there to try hard and have fun.”

Starbeck also reflected on his final game and said he has hopes to put everything out on the ice as his last games as a Warrior.

“My personal goal would be to leave everything out there and try my hardest in my last state tournament,” Starbeck said.

Dupree said he is hopeful of a victory and knows what it takes to defend the title for the Warriors. “We know that if we play to our full potential that we can beat anyone.”

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