Jan 01

Two Athletes Sign National Letters of Intent

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Two Holy Family Athletes Sign National Letters of Intent

The NCAA estimates the percentage of high school athletes continuing to compete in organized athletics at the D1 or D2 collegiate level to be between 1-2%. Today Jillian Oncay and Carver Kasper added their names to those select few when they signed their National Letters of Intent.

Jillian Oncay signed her National Letter of Intent with the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to continue her rowing career and fulfill her desire to serve her country. During the presentation, Jillian’s coach from Twin Cities Youth Rowing, Rebecca Newman, shared her observations of Jillian’s college search, “Jillian was recruited by Cornell, UVA,…all these lovely schools, but she kept saying ‘I want to serve my country. I want to go to the Naval Academy.’ After receiving a commitment from UVA, a phenomenal school, she was accepted to USNA.”

Coach Newman went on to describe her reaction when Jillian shared her decision to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, “I was so proud when she told me. Not only because she will row there, but she is going to serve all of us. And that is truly what Jillian is all about. She’s about team. She’s about family, and she’s about country.” (See Coach Newman’s full presentation HERE.)

Following Jillian’s signing,  Holy Family Baseball head coach, Bryan DeLorenzo, led Carver Kasper through the signing of his National Letter of Intent to play baseball for Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. Coach DeLorenzo recalled Carver earning a varsity starting position as a freshman—a unique achievement for the deep-benched Holy Family baseball program. He described Holy Family’s baseball program as “growing stronger since Carver arrived.”

Coach DeLorenzo reminded the audience that the cancellation of the Spring 2020 high school season was not nly difficult for seniors looking forward to completing their high school careers, but for juniors looking to be recognized by college programs as well. Carver didn’t allow that to impede him. This summer, he played baseball in Missouri before returning to Minnesota to play with Holy Family’s summer league team. He helped Holy Family finish the summer league season with an 11-2 record and the Metro Baseball Alliance Tier A Region 2 League title. In closing, DeLorenzo said, “Carver is a great teammate and has always been a pleasure to coach. Both myself and the entire Holy Family baseball program wish you (Carver) good luck at the next level.” (See Coach DeLorenzo’s full presentation HERE.)

The opportunity to continue athletic careers at the college level is a reflection of Jillian and Carver’s work ethics and commitment to improvement. We caught up with the two athletes to learn more about them and their approach to being student-athletes. 


Jillian Oncay signs her NLI to the U.S. Naval Academy

Jillian Oncay | U.S. Naval Academy, NLI to join the USNA Women’s Crew

Additional Activities:  Honor Society, Fire Ambassador, Holy Family Girls Hockey, ACT tutor for students outside of HFCHS

Many people are unfamiliar with rowing/crew teams. Can you describe the sport in 2-3 sentences and what you enjoy about it?
Rowing, also called crew, can be either an individual or team sport. Rowing is very versatile as the boat sizes change from between 1 rower to 8 rowers and two different kinds of rowing, sweeping and sculling. Many people compare it to canoeing; however, rowing is an entire body workout involving the main movements driving from your legs, body, and arms.  

 Coach Newman described you as one of the top rowers in the country. When did you begin rowing, and what kind of time and effort did you put into improving your skills as a rower?
I started rowing during the winter of my sophomore year, which is common for people to begin during high school. During our time off the water, we focus on our strength and times on rowing machines. It was not until April that I was able to be in a boat on the water. After that spring season, My teammates, coach, and I noticed my varsity level times, strength, and potential. All summer, I spent 4 hours a day practicing on the water and then spent time with a personal trainer lifting. I had to build physical stamina and the mental fortitude to stick to a rigorous training program. I then earned a seat in the top boat (V1), which required rowing workouts to be completed before school and then have practice after school.

 What habits do you think have contributed to your success as an athlete and a student?
I believe that staying persistent in your academics and taking your mind off of schoolwork are crucial to juggling a rigorous school schedule and a demanding practice. Using your time efficiently outside of practice and school is a fundamental habit. I also believe that being competitive among your teammates will make your boat or team go faster.  

 How do you balance being in athletics/activities and school?
Especially in the fall, waking up at 5:30 a.m. to row and having practice after school is challenging, but having a goal to work towards makes the pain worth it. Because I know the school week will be busy, I try to get as much done on the weekends to keep my workload light.  

Any advice for a young athlete coming to Holy Family with hopes to continue to compete in college?
If you hope to continue a sport in college, commit to it because the effort you put in as an underclassman will transpire to success as an upperclassman. You must also be proactive in the recruiting process by exposing your success and strength online to coaches.  

What do you like best about Holy Family?
One of my favorite parts of Holy Family is the easy-going atmosphere created by the students and faculty.  

Anything else you would like to share:
The military aspect of my commitment is very important to me; not only am I committing to row to four years in college but a minimum of 5 years of service after I graduate from college. More students should look into a military academy or ROTC because of the apparent benefits like the military paying for your college tuition and the intangible value of serving your country.  


Carver Kasper official commits to Rockhurst University Baseball


Carver Kasper –Rockhurst University, NLI to play for the Rockhurst University Men’s Baseball program

Planned College Major: Management

Holy Family Activities: Baseball, Football, Student Council, Bible Study, and Robotics.

When did you begin playing baseball, and what associations outside of Holy Family have you played in?
I started playing baseball when I was five years old in my hometown of Millstadt, Illinois. I have played with many teams in that area, including town and school teams. The main teams I have played on throughout my baseball career (outside of Holy Family) are the St. Louis Pirates and the Minnesota Blizzard.

When you think back to your experience playing baseball for Holy Family, what are the best memories that come to mind?
One of my greatest memories is being able to play varsity as a freshman. It also would have to be getting my first hit during that year, which was in the first game. Honestly, the best memories are the people that I have played with over the years.

What habits do you think have contributed to your success as a baseball player?
A habit that contributes to my success is my work ethic because I work to improve my skills. Also, perseverance because baseball is a game of ups and downs, which I have had many.

How do you balance being athletics and school?
It is difficult to do, but I try to stay ahead of things the best I can, so I do not fall behind in school.

Any advice for a young athlete coming to Holy Family with hopes to continue in college?
The best advice I can give is if you work hard to improve your skills every day, you will be rewarded.

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Jan 01

Behind the Scenes: Girls’ Hockey

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Holy Family Girls’ Hockey Is Fire on Ice!

At a recent Friday morning Convo, a daily event where Holy Family students gather as “family” in the school gym, everything was going as planned. First daily prayers, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. And then, the customary rundown of upcoming weekend sports events.

Boys’ basketball at Breck. Girls’ basketball at Hutchinson. Girls’ hockey—the Fire vs. the Wildcats at the Waconia City Ice Arena. The immediate reaction to the last announcement: applause and a few enthusiastic cheers.

And so a new and very natural rivalry has formed. For 11 years (2007-2018), Waconia and Holy Family girls’ hockey players suited up in the same locker room, sharing jerseys that reflected the 50/50 split of a co-op team called the Wildfire—a combination of Waconia’s “Wildcats” nickname and Holy Family’s “Fire.” Now, each school has returned to its respective team names, shedding the complexities of juggling a program to fit both schools.

Holy Family Activities Director Nick Tibesar says the former co-op team was naturally working against how the two schools were wired as fellow Wright County Conference members. He knew coming to Holy Family in 2016 that it was a matter of “when,” not “if,” the change would come to girls’ hockey.

“There was some natural rivalry already with Holy Family and Waconia, just being neighboring schools in the same conference,” Tibesar says. “We’re rivals all year long in every other sport, but for girls’ hockey, we expected them to share a locker room. ”

So in 2017, Holy Family and Waconia agreed to end their co-op girls’ hockey team, with the 2018-19 season marking the beginning of a new era with two independent teams.

“The reality of it was we knew we were going in that direction,” Tibesar adds. “If you’d asked me when I started three years ago, ‘Are we going to be looking to dissolve this co-op?’ I probably would have said, ‘Yeah, it’d probably be better if we can do it sooner than later.’

 “What they want for their program is the same thing we want for ours: They want to be able to do it their way, have it align with their activities office and their school and their culture,” Tibesar says. “We want the same thing.”

Transition to a New Order

With the co-op over, Holy Family has implemented a plan to stand on its own in the competitive world of girls’ high school hockey. Even before the season began, coach Randy Koeppl decided every skater would play at least one period in a junior varsity game. That made it easier to schedule opponents looking to build their own programs through JV competition.

Fifteen games into the Fire’s inaugural season, Koeppl is proud his plan is working, with all 23 skaters (excluding three goalies) having played JV this season.

“In a normal situation, you’d have 28 skaters on a varsity team,” says Koeppl, who hopes to field 30 to 32 players next year. “Maybe two or three would overlap (between varsity and JV). When I talked to the girls and their families before this season, I said, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ I said everybody is going to have to chip in and there aren’t going to be any egos.”

The plan worked. Sure, there were some hurdles to overcome. For instance, many Holy Family players live in Waconia, and for them it meant lining up on the opposite side of the ice from teammates they played with for years.

“It was a big surprise to me because I played with those girls my whole life,” says junior captain Lauren Hickey, who transferred from Waconia High School to Holy Family her freshman year.

“It’s hard, but I think it’s better for both of us because it makes us one team from one school,” adds sophomore Sadie Long, who’s also from Waconia.

Junior captain Caitlin Rock heard rumblings that the co-op would end, but that still didn’t make it any easier to handle the news.

“I was kind of shocked,” she admits. “We didn’t know what was going to come out of it. It’s been going on for a while and then it finally happened.”

Eventually, the excitement of representing Holy Family as Fire girls’ hockey began to set in. After all, the Fire boys’ hockey program has become a legitimate force in Minnesota high school hockey. The belief is that Holy Family girls’ hockey could and should do the same.

Sophomore goalie Alex Pellicci recalled, “I think everyone got a lot more excited and realized how good this was going to be for our program and how much growth we were going to have.” Photo by Graham Miller

“As the summer went on,” sophomore goalie Alex Pellicci recalled, “I think everyone got a lot more excited and realized how good this was going to be for our program and how much growth we were going to have.”

Quick Results Built on Youth

The early results reflect players and parents are buying into Koeppl’s vision. He brings 15 years of coaching high school and club hockey to the program. With a roster featuring no seniors and just three juniors, the Fire roster is young but competitive. At 12-3-2, Holy Family finds itself as roughly a top-20 Class AA team, according to Koeppl. (Update: The Fire finished the regular season with a 16-6-3 record and seeded #5 in the very competitive Class 2A, Section 2. They play #4-seed Shakopee Sabers at Shakopee on Friday, February 8, at 7 p.m. at Shakopee Arena.)

“They can see our talent level,” says Koeppl, who played at the University of Minnesota. “It’s always easier when you’re winning. If we’re sitting here 0-12, it’s a different story.”

Plus, there is a certain satisfaction that comes with recording a number of program firsts, he says. It’s something no other Holy Family girls’ hockey team will have a chance to experience.

“It’s not often you get to do something for the first time: the first goal, the first win, the first shutout, the first penalty. This is stuff that people are going to remember,” Koeppl says. “You’re going to look back and say, ‘Jeez, their first year they were that good?’ ”

Photo by Graham Miller ’21

And then there is the natural chemistry surrounding this team. Success doesn’t hinge solely on wins and losses. It goes deeper.

“When I talk to these kids, I keep it to under 5 minutes because usually they’re just goofing around or they’re laughing at each other, making faces at each other; they’re having fun,” Koeppl says. “But they understand when it’s time to be serious. They have those personalities where they like each other, which is huge.”

Ultimately, that results in more time together beyond scheduled games, practices and in the locker room. It leads to friendships built on:

  • Study groups after school
  • A Secret Santa gift exchange
  • Pond-hockey games
  • Volunteering as a team at Feed My Starving Children
  • Weekly pasta dinners after Monday practices

“Being at a different schools, you could feel it in the locker room,” says Pellicci, comparing this year’s team to last year’s. “We can walk the hallways as a team. And people tend to come to more games because they know who we are.”

Koeppl notices a difference too. After all, he coached the Wildfire co-op team last year during its final season.

“There’s a certain pride of playing for Holy Family,” he says. “They wear school stuff. They carry their bags around. They’re proud of it and that’s something I am proud of.”

And the Rivalry Begins

December 4 marked history with the drop of the puck at Victoria Ice Arena, the Fire’s home ice. It was the first conference girls’ hockey game between Holy Family and Waconia. Holy Family cruised to a decisive 8-0 victory. Many players on Waconia’s roster were under Koeppl’s guidance just a year ago. That wasn’t lost on the Waconia players.

“Three or four of them came over and said, ‘Hey, how are you doing Coach?’ ” Koeppl says.

For the Holy Family players, it was a game between friends as much as it was a time to be competitive.

Holy Family Girls Varsity Hockey vs. Chaska/Chanhassen Nov 27, 2018: Kayla Woytcke ’22 (28) Photo by Collin Nawrocki

“It was a weird thing because we didn’t want to beat them, but we didn’t want to lose to them,” said Pellicci, who has committed to playing in college at Harvard. “But it was a good outcome. I think everybody on both teams had a really good attitude about it.”

The anticipation to play against former teammates amplified the pregame nerves for Rock.

“You didn’t know how they were going to come out and play. You know every single girl on the team,” Rock said. “During the game it was fun, because you make jokes with each other on the ice.”

Holy Family traveled to Waconia City Ice Arena on January 11 for their second meeting. Rock scored her 50th Holy Family goal that night, as the team cruised to an 11-1 victory and a 2-0 game lead against the Wildcats.

Those early games set the tone for what could be a budding rivalry.

“Obviously Waconia is a natural rival,” Koeppl says. “Chaska-Chan I think is going to end up being a big rival. I would like it if Minnetonka and Eden Prairie would be too.”

Koeppl may just get his wish. When the co-op ended, Holy Family had the option to move from Class AA to Class A because without Waconia’s student body, Holy Family’s enrollment dropped below the threshold that once forced it into Class AA. After consulting Tibesar, parents and players, Koeppl said everyone agreed Holy Family girls’ hockey should remain in Class AA.

“The kids wanted to play AA,” Koeppl says. “It’s better hockey. It’s faster. They want to be challenged, and that’s the type of kids they are. They want to play the best.”

It also comes at the cost of short-term success, with Koeppl noting Holy Family would likely be a top-six team in the state in Class A. But Holy Family girls’ hockey is building for the long term.

“We want to be consistent state championship contenders,” he says. “That’s the goal of the program. We want to be able to run with the Minnetonkas, the Edinas, the Blakes and the Brecks. We’re not there yet, but we think we have a good core that in a year or two we’ll get there.”

That optimism doesn’t just reflect Koeppl’s belief. He hears it from others well connected in the Minnesota hockey community.

“What I’ve heard people say is, ‘It’s going to be fun to watch where your program goes in the next three to four years,’ ” he shares. “I think even people outside of our program are excited to see a new team on the rise.”

 

About the Writer: Mike Nelson graduated from Holy Family in 2008. He is an editor and writer at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Since graduating from Marquette University with a degree in journalism, he has also had work appear in Bleacher Report, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MLB.com. Nelson lives in Burnsville with his wife, Kim.

Jan 01

New Girls Hockey Head Coach Hired

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Holy Family Activities Director Nick Tibesar announced the hiring of Randy Koeppl, as the new head coach for the Wildfire girls hockey program. Coach Koeppl comes with a wealth of coaching experience, including 15 years of coaching at the high school and club levels.

After a standout career at Bloomington Jefferson, where Coach Koeppl played goalie on back to back state championship teams, he went on to play in the USHL. Eventually, Koeppl played for Coach Woog at the University of Minnesota. He’s remained active in the game ever since. He has coached varsity boys hockey at Holy Angels and Hopkins High School. Coach Koeppl has also been serving as a leader and mentor in Winny Brodt-Brown’s OS Selects all-girls hockey program. Along with coaching in the Eden Prairie youth association and Team MN.

Head Coach Koeppl will email families regarding a team meeting and summer training opportunities in the coming days.

Want to make it to their next game? Check out our Activities Calendar to see when they’re playing!

You can keep up with the team by checking out their Facebook page.