Head coach — Rob Hollerbach (6th year).
Assistant coaches — Cindy McClung, Katelyn Thompson and Kate Linhoff.
Last season — 5-5 (5-4 North Division).
2013 captains — Austin Harjes and Dan Pehrson.
Who’s gone — All-conference performer Riley Cludy and fellow senior captain Wesley Dahle graduated from last year’s team that increased its win total from two in 2011 to five in 2012. Cludy led the Ponies in scoring two years ago, but spent much of last season serving in goal for the Ponies.
Who’s back — Austin Harjes joined Cludy in earning all-conference honors a year ago and will be joined by all-conference honorable mention selection Dan Pehrson in serving as a captain this fall. Pehrson was the team’s top defensive player a year ago.
“Austin and Dan have been excellent in trying to train everybody on what they know so they can put together a competitive team this year,” Ponies coach Rob Hollerbach said.
Additional returning players for Stillwater include seniors Brittany Benz, Devin Wildes and Cali Capistrant and sophomores Hannah Johnson and Sam Sundgaard. Sophomore Natasha Wofford-Funke previously played for the Ponies but was not a part of the team a year ago. She returns and should help anchor the team defensively, allowing Pehrson to take a shift in goal or play a larger role at forward.
“The seniors have put it together and have a pretty good idea what they’re doing,” Hollerbach said.
Top newcomers — Sophomore Brandon Haug has joined the team and a trio of seventh-graders John Lindberg, Daniel Donahue and Dillon Hill should help contribute this season and help fill in for the losses of Cludy and Dahle.
“Those three young guys are listening and doing their job.”
Season — Last year brought more victories and the Ponies were also more competitive in their losses. They are chasing their first trip to the state tournament — which is being hosted at Stillwater again this year — since 2006. Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville was the state runner-up a year ago and joins Park Center, a state semifinalist, among the strongest teams on the scheduled for Stillwater this fall. Anoka-Hennepin and North Suburban (Centennial/Spring Lake Park) also qualified for the state tournament.
“In the north (section) it will be Anoka and Park Center again,” Hollerbach said. “They did not lose many seniors on both of those teams and Mounds View had a strong junior class so we’re anticipating they’re going to have the same group they did last year. We played all of those teams very well and Anoka was one goal.”
Section — The Ponies fell to Chaska/Chanhassen/Prior Lake/Shakopee 7-2 in the section playoffs and one of the keys to returning to the state tournament will earning a higher seeding for the section playoffs.
“We’re looking forward to a good season,” Hollerbach said. “Last year they had an opportunity to go to state and there were teams that we had beat that went to state. They realized they had a chance last year and try and make that a goal this year.”
Outlook — The Ponies are eager to improve on last season and how well they play defensively will be critical in that pursuit. Harjes and Pehrson should provide plenty of scoring but will also share in the defensive responsibilities and their willingness to play other positions where needed should be an asset for the Ponies.
“We need to work more on our defense,” Hollerbach said. “The forward group knows what they are doing, but we are working in the defensive areas and filling in where we need to right now.”
Quotable — “It’s going to be a great season no matter what,” Hollerbach said. “The parents are supportive and wonderful and we have a great group of kids. I think we’ll have fun and be successful and hopefully our record will show that.”
Other — Assistant coach Cindy McClung enters her 16th season working with the Ponies. Former players Katelyn Thompson and Kate Linhoff are also helping out.
“Cindy has been here from the start and she still tolerates me,” Hollerbach said. “She’s always a great help and she has great insights and passion for these kids and getting the most success for these kids. She is spot on. Kate and Katelyn are past state champions and they just love watching these kids get better and better and that’s why they’ve stayed on all these years. I can’t say enough about those guys.
n Stillwater won back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006, posting a 27-1 record during that span. The Ponies also appeared in the state tournament in 2004, when they were a co-op with White Bear Lake and competed in the CI and PI divisions.
The Ponies defeated South Washington County 3-1 in the championship in 2005 and followed with a 7-4 victory over the same team in 2006.
n The CI Division (formerly MH Division), which Stillwater competes in, is for athletes with cognitive impairments while the PI Division (formerly POHI) is for athletes with physical or other health impairments.
Seniors (5) — Brittany Benz, Cali Capistrant, Austin Harjes, Dan Pehrson and Devin Wildes.
Sophomores (4) — Brandon Haug, Hannah Johnson, Sam Sundgaard and Natasha Wofford-Funke.
Seventh-graders (3) — Daniel Donahue, Dillon Hill and John Lindberg.
Tuesday, Sept. 24 NSP 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 1 Wayzata 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 3 at N. Sub. 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 8 Park Center 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 10 at M. View 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 15 R. Cooper 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 22 WB Lake 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 24 at C.H. 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 29 at St. Cloud 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 31 Anoka 4:30 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 4 Section semis TBA
Thursday, Nov. 7 Section finals TBA
Friday, Nov. 15 State TBA
Saturday, Nov. 16 State TBA