WILLIAMSTOWN >> Two years ago, the Williams College women's hockey team won its first NESCAC tournament championship and with it, a trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Last year, the Ephs suffered a setback with a 9-13-3 record.
The returning veterans came back to school this fall prepared to right the proverbial ship.
"It was good," said Williams coach Meghan Gillis said, when asked how the off-season went. "The team is focused. They spent a lot of time working with head strength and conditioning coach Rob Livingstone. They came back for Nov. 1, ready to hit the ground running."
The Ephs will hit the ice skating tonight, when they host Hamilton in the first of a two-game home series. Williams will play its first three games at home before being on the road for the end of November and all of December.
Williams' schedule is tough, featuring three teams in the D3hockey.com Top 10. In the most recent poll, Middlebury is No. 2, Elmira is No. 3 and Amherst is ranked 10th.
The Ephs return 16 players from last year's team, including seven of the top 10 scorers. Williams junior defenseman Hanna Beattie led the Ephs in scoring with three goals and 13 assists. Junior forward Sara Lehman is the top returning goal scorer, having seven last year.
"I think there's a strong core of returners and we're adding, I think, a good amount of offensive potential up front with the incoming first-years," said Gillis, who enters her fifth year at the helm.
That, said Gillis, was a key factor in going from NESCAC champions to first-round elimination in a 1-0 game to eventual conference tournament champion Trinity.
"That was the piece that we struggled with last year, graduating [Cristina] Bravi and Gabby [Vukovin], a third of our scoring," said the coach, "and trying to find people to fill those gaps.
"This year, our defense and our goalies will continue to be stronger, and hopefully, our offense will be better than it was a year ago."
Williams had trouble putting the puck in the net, scoring a NESCAC-low 40 goals overall. The Ephs' 25 goals in conference play was third worst.
Everything in hockey starts between the pipes, and Williams has two veterans and a freshman in net.
Sophomore Christina Cleroux from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, took over the starters job last year and finished with a 5-9-2 record, but with an impressive 1.52 goals-against average. She will be backed up by junior Margaret Draper with first-year Julia Mini in reserve.
"It will be Christina" on opening night, said Gillis. "She's just cool under pressure, calm and consistent. She's small [5-foot-4-inches] but quick, so she's able to make second and third saves as needed."
Draper and Mini are both bigger goalies at 5-8. Draper is a three-year goalie at Williams, as she guards the nets for field hockey and lacrosse. Mini rowed in the fall, so Gillis said the freshman is still working to get in hockey shape.
Of the seven first years on the roster, four of them are forwards.
"The great thing is we have a lot of options and great depth that probably haven't seen of in the last couple of years," said Gillis. "[The scoring] could be from any of the four lines, which is nice."