The novelty is over. It's time to start making some noise.
As the Niagara County Lady Warriors enter their second season in the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation, the focus will be on more than just capturing that illusive first win in program history. It's about making a statement that they can compete and succeed in what many feel is the best girls varsity hockey league in the state.
"First off, I told them we need to come together," said coach Greg Grosskopf, who earned Fed Coach of the Year honors during the team's inaugural season. "Last year we had a very tight group. This year we have 10 new players. So come together first, then we'll win as a team. It's not individuals with us. It's going to have to be a team effort."
After losing roughly half of last year's lineup to graduation, NiCo's numbers have been bolstered as Lewiston-Porter and North Tonawanda girls have officially joined Starpoint and Niagara Wheatfield on the ice.
Sophomore forward Kayla Persinger, who is one of six Lew-Port girls on the roster, said that she and her classmates are thrilled to have the chance to play high school hockey.
"The opportunity, it's amazing," Persinger said. "To show the world we're not a big school, but we're here. We're here and we have girls who can play hockey. Hockeys not just for guys. It's for girls, too!"
Niagara County has an influx of 13 girls between grades 7 through 9 who can all play. The team isn't just a gathering of athletes trying to learn the game in the fly. These girls can skate, pass, stick handle and play physical when needed.
Freshman Paige Spatarico and eighth grader Savannah Truly of NT are among that group of 13 young ones.
They are also sporting a new logo and took on an official nickname of "Lady Warriors."
While most teams in the Girls Fed go by annograms that are a combination of the first letter of the merged schools — Frontier/Lake Shore/Orchard Park is FLOP — the only team with an actual nickname is Kenmore/Grand Island, which took on the name DevilDogs as a symbol of the joint Kenmore West/East team.
Grosskopf said taking on the Lady Warriors moniker is another step in establishing their identity.
"Me and coach Mike Dunlop we're hockey guys. We want full names," Grosskopf said. "There's a lot of teams that just have the initial and stuff, which is cool. But we want a name. Through some consideration we came up with the Lady Warriors. I think it will fit."
But the real talk is the on the product as Niagara County has returned a core of players like junior forwards Natalie O'Brien (Starpoint) and Amanda Jackson (Wheatfield), who serve as co-captains.
"This year we're looking more towards scoring more goals as a team and being able to obviously win games," O'Brien said.
"They want to win," Grosskopf said of his captains. "They echoed that to the girls that last year was fun but we have higher expectations this year. We're ready to win. They're great leaders in the room and in practices."
Sophomore Annie Riek (NW) also returns between the pipes. After playing in every game last season, Riek now has the benefit of a solid backup, Lew-Port junior Isabella Renzi, on the roster.
The competition between them and freshman Anna Solar will only make all three better.s
Grosskopf said though the team didn't gain a win last year there was a positive, healthy atmosphere where girls worked together and supported each other.
That message of unity is paramount this year as they welcome all the new faces.
O'Brien said she has no worries in that regard as new and returning girls instantly clicked over the common thread of their love of the game.
"It's definitely nice on the ice," she said, "but off the ice they came right in and we just bonded right away. So that made it easier for us to go right on to the ice and play."