by Samantha Lefebvre
Anoka-Hennepin’s Adapted Floor Hockey Physically Impaired (PI) team is approaching the end of the regular season and looking forward to their ninth consecutive appearance at the State Tournament. The Mustangs started off the season with a undefeated 3-0 start, out scoring their opponents 27-7. Since then they have added three more wins boosting their record to 6-2 with just two regular games left in the season.
After a tough 3-1 loss to Brainerd on Feb. 15, the Mustangs regrouped and regained their strength for their second big win over Mounds View. On Feb. 22 the Mustangs faced off against Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville for the second time this season and came away with a similar victory. Once again the Mustangs only allowed the Rams to score one goal in the 8-1 victory. Earlier this season, the Mustangs defeated the Rams 9-1.
“They play really well together,” coach Sue Opat said of her team. “We have a lot of different scorers on our team. Basically all our starters take turns scoring so we don’t have one stand out player. We have just a whole bunch of players that work together as a team. And it has served us well.”
Senior Emily Fiske and junior Corey Gieske are just two of the starters that contribute points each game. Fiske and Gieske led the Mustangs with 3 goals each. Gieske, who is from Champlin Park, also contributed an assist. Erik Santa, a junior from Andover, also slid two goals past the Rams goalie and had an assist.
Defending the goal with a total 17 saves was Coon Rapids junior defenseman Alec Wellman and seventh grade goalie Ben Schmitz from Oakview Middle School in Andover.
“It is their first time playing there and they have been playing really good together,” Opat said. “They get a lot of shots taken on them and they are always there to knock them down. It is not an easy position to play in a wheelchair and they move well together.”
Fiske, who is from Blaine and will be attending St. Catherine’s in the Fall, said that she is very proud to be a part of her team and that she feels they are doing very well this year.
“This year we have a few more people on the team to help change it up a bit and that way we don’t get so tired and we can put the puck in more,” Fiske said.
Opat said that Fiske is the first athlete from their team to attend a four-year college right out of high school.
“We have had some kids go to two-year colleges but this is the first time for a four-year college,” Opat said. “So that is pretty exciting for us.”
Fiske along with Gieske have been on the team for a three and four years respectively. The two of them also participate in the softball and soccer leagues for the Mustangs.
“I like being a part of this team,” Gieske said. “I couldn’t be a part of other teams when I was younger because of a heart defect so this team is a good fit for me.”
The team is comprised of 12 athletes ranging from 7th- 12th graders. Although they received three new athletes this season, Opat says she would like to see a bigger turnout of kids.
“Our biggest challenge for the team is getting more athletes out for the team,” Opat said. “Physical impairments range from being in a wheelchair to someone with a little paralysis in their hand, so all those kids would qualify. I don’t think a lot of people know about it and what qualifies them.”
According to the Minnesota State High School League Bylaw 511 any student with physical impairments and has medical clearance to compete in competitive athletics can do so. In order to be eligible for the PI Division students must have diagnosed and documented impairment specified from either one of these sections:
“1. Neuromuscular, postural/skeletal, traumatic, growth, or neurological impairment that affects motor function, modifies gait patterns, or requires the use of a prosthesis or a mobility device including but not limited to, canes, crutches, or wheelchairs.
2. Cardio/respiratory impairment that is deemed safe for competitive athletics but limits the intensity and duration of physical exertion such that sustained activity for over five minutes at 60% of maximum heart rate for age results in physical distress in spite of appropriate management of the health condition.”
A few specific exclusions to this criteria do apply and can be round in further detail on the MSHSL website.
The Mustangs will be away for their final two games of the regular season at Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound-West Tonka on Feb. 27 and then against Wayzata/Minnetonka on Feb. 29. The State Tournament begins March 16 and runs through the 17th at Bloomington Jefferson High School. The Mustangs will have to finish in the top three in the Northern Division to automatically be one of the eight teams at State.
In the nine years that Opat has been the coach for the Mustangs the team has gone to the State Tournament every year, including three first place finishes, one second place finish and two third place finishes.
“Usually we finish high, we don’t often finish very low,” Opat said of their appearances at State. “They all work well together and they work hard.”
Samantha Lefebvre is at firstname.lastname@example.org