With no seniors on the team and being just one of four juniors, Sophia Zebro knew her role was about to change for the St. Francis/North Branch girls hockey team. On the varsity roster since seventh grade, Zebro’s statistics have consistently gone up. Now she is considered an upperclassman. With that, her leadership duties involve more than just scoring.
She’s certainly done her part in that category, though. Zebro leads the team with 19 goals and 14 assists. But she’s done more than just score to help improve last year’s 8-16-1 finish to a 13-10-1 record heading into the final regular season game on Feb. 3.
“Sophia herself is an excellent kid,” Fighting Saints head coach Alexandra Kleinhuizen said. “She takes the role as leader on and off the ice and grabs onto that. She has incredible character and works really well with the girls. She kind of took that upon herself. She’s the youngest of seven kids and has stepped into that adult role real early in life.”
The Fighting Saints have seven sophomores and an eighth grader on their varsity roster. Zebro was able to play with five seniors last season as a sophomore. Her role quickly changed once the year ended in the playoffs.
“I had the honor of getting voted captain and so I had to step up to be that leader,” Zebro said. “We have so many new girls and no seniors. We have to lead the team. I didn’t know what that was going to come down to, whether goals or assists or just encouraging players and doing what I have to do to get the team ready to play.”
Zebro has worked her way up the ladder to get to this point. She was third on the team in points as a freshman and second last year with 26 behind Kalley Wagner’s 32.
This season, she has scored three or more points in a game six times.
“She has an amazing skill set,” Kleinhuizen said. “She has incredible hands and can pick her corners on the net. She can see the ice really well and continues to improve on her speed.”
Being a taller player, Zebro said her focus was to get faster on the ice. But between sophomore and junior campaigns, she has also improved the speed on her shot and is seeing the ice better to find teammates.
The other components to leading her team came naturally, though.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to lead and encourage and be there for my team,” Zebro said. “Being named captain, I didn’t really take that power as I can tell people what to do. I just built on to what I was doing and trying to encourage my team the best as I can.”
The young team began to get on a role to start the New Year. From Jan. 7-24, the Fighting Saints rattled off five wins, one tie and zero losses. But they have since suffered three straight defeats entering the final regular season game against Cambridge-Isanti/Mora/Pine City.
As the postseason approaches, St. Francis/North Branch hopes to continue gelling to make a run in sections.
“With so many new girls this year, just the way that we’ve bonded has helped on the ice,” Zebro said. “We have only a few girls that have played together. Just the fact that we’ve bonded has helped us on the ice in every area with passing, seeing the ice and thinking alike.”