Women's hockey and the Rocky Mountains aren't exactly synonymous, but the Utah Thunder, a competitive local team, is changing that. Recently, the team returned from Massachusetts with the women's national championship title, for the second year in a row.
"It's really unique to say you are a national champion," said Morgan Marietti, a North Ogden local and an assistant team captain. "This year it was a great feeling of accomplishment and success, but success within each game itself. Every single game was a lot of tight competition and was only won by one or two goals throughout the entire tournament."
"It felt really good this year, I wasn't sure our team would win it this year," said Shannon Asmus, another assistant team captain from Salt Lake. "It didn't seem like everyone was together like the year before, but we came together at nationals."
With players ranging from ages 18 to 40 and from moms to college students and coming from Logan to Salt Lake City, Team Thunder has to use its one hour of ice time a week to learn quickly to play together.
"Every time we take the ice we've got to be serious with what we're doing," said Dennis Marietti, one of the team's coaches, and Morgan's father.
"With every player on our team it's hard for us to practice. We're all either in school, starting new careers or some have families. It's hard for us to get together to practice. The thing that brings us together as team is our love for the sport and our desire to work hard on the ice. Not a day goes by at practice that we don't have a 100 percent effort. Every single person is dedicated to working to help the team. We have a desire to win together as a team, rather than individually."
The Thunder were unchallenged in Rocky Mountain district play this year, which earned them a berth at nationals. Throughout the season, in order to get competition, they played men's teams and bantam-level boys teams. Morgan said that playing the guys helps give them a higher level of aggressiveness on the ice that gives them an advantage in the national tournament.
"Of course they never want to lose to women and we always want to beat them, so it's always a heated rivalry right from the beginning," she said. It's something that helps us. The teams back East are more aggressive in play."
While the women's competition in the district was lacking, the level of play from teams back East challenged the team. Starting with three pool play games and progressing through the semi-finals, they played teams that had gone through highly competitive tournaments to get to the championships.
"The teams were really solid this year and we had some really good games," said Asmus. "The first year it was somewhat a little easier for us."
Emma Benoit, a player on the team from Clinton, agreed. "We had more physical games that really forced us to work a lot more. We really had to kind of pull together and tough it out and prove ourselves. We were challenged a lot more at this tournament than we were last year."
The Thunder won their final game against Caha, a team from North and South Carolina, 2-0.
"It definitely was still one of the best moments of my life, winning the national championship for a second time," said Morgan. "It was an exciting tournament all the way through. It was definitely a national title that we earned as a team. We couldn't have done it without every person on our team."
Other women on the team include Salt Lake's Abbey Hewes, Kristen Moore, Erin Gould (team captain), McKelle Cook, Shaleese Young, and Kate Hendrickson; Ogden-area's Alex Sacco, and Laurie Larsen; Logan's Erin Olson and Breshae Limb, and Bountiful's Kaela Larrabee.