WILLIAMSTOWN - At the end of January, the Williams College women’s hockey team was 8-8 and seemed poised to finish over .500 for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Injuries helped contribute to a 1-7-1 season end and a third consecutive under .500 record. The end of last season hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm or the confidence third-year coach Meghan Gillis has in her Ephs.
"I think last year we ran into a ton of injuries at an unfortunate time, midway through January," said Gillis. "They didn’t stop until the season was over.
"We’re hoping to be healthier this year, and that will allow us to keep the roster a little deeper than it has been in the past."
Things begin for the Ephs Friday, when NESCAC and Little Three rival Wesleyan skates into Lansing Chapman Rink for two home games. Williams actually has only three home games between now and Jan. 14.
Offensively, Williams returns four of its top six scorers. Seniors Gabrielle Vukasin and Cristina Bravi were 1-2 in scoring last year with Vukasin leading the team with 10 goals and Bravi registering 9 assists. Returning junior Andrea Heller was fourth with five goals.
Freshmen Chelsey Stevenson and Emily Krueger have stepped up and could see extensive time on one of the Ephs’ top three lines.
It is on the blue line where Gillis will have to do the most rebuilding. Williams graduated second-team All-NESCAC selection Sam Weinstein and Aimee Dennett. Last year, the other Williams defenders were all freshmen or sophomores, so they have one more year of experience.
Junior Caitlin Conlon has the most experience on the blue line. Sophomores Abby Belcrest, Hadley DesMueles and Talia Simon also return, and they will be joined in regular pairings by freshmen Ashley Arnold and Hanna Beattie. Arnold is recovering from Mono, and won’t be available right off the bat.
"All successful teams have to be strong from the net out," Gillis said. "We definitely have more depth up front than we’ve had in the past."
Chloe Billadeau takes command between the pipes this year. Billadeau had a 3.16 goals-against average, and the Eph head coach said she is happy with Billadeau and freshman backup Margaret Draper.
"She worked hard in the offseason and came back Nov. 1, ready to go," Gillis said of Billadeau. "It’ll be good competition between the pipes."
Last year, the Ephs were the seventh seed in the NESCAC tournament and lost a 5-3 decision to eventual champion Bowdoin. The Polar Bears and Middlebury advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament and Middlebury lost 1-0 to Elmira in the title game.
"The NESCAC is as tough as ever," the coach said. "It’s definitely the best league, depth-wise, in Division III."