TINTON FALLS - With any young program, a culture must be established. In high school sports, the culture must be created and carried out not just by the coach, but also by the players. The coach lays out a path, but the players must set out on the journey. This year the Trinity Hall girls ice hockey team is that program.
The Trinity Hall ice hockey team was established last year as the first and only all-girls ice hockey team in Monmouth County, according to head coach Frankie Francese. There are presently between 15 and 20 girls high school ice hockey teams in New Jersey but the sport is not a sanctioned sport by the NJSIAA.
“Our Head of School, Mary Sciarrillo, always wanted a girls ice hockey team since the school opened five years ago,” explained Francese. “She is extremely supportive of the girls developing in the classroom and on the field (or ice).”
Theresa Kiernan, Director of Advancement and Admissions added, “As a school in its earliest years, we have always been responsive to our student body. Led by a small group of students who are experienced ice hockey players, Trinity Hall played its inaugural ice hockey season last year and has continued to build this season to state-wide success. Student-athletes interested in the rigorous academic program we provide are thrilled to be able to play hockey for their high school, with their school friends, in an incredibly supportive and celebratory manner.”
Like most new programs, there were growing pains. Last year, the team’s record was 2-4. The team included only seven available skaters and a goalie. Of these eight, four were experienced and four never played before.
This year is different, as there are currently 13 skaters and two goalies on the team, as well as a new coach in Francese. Although he has never coached a high school team before, he does have experience coaching U18 travel hockey locally.
Francese is no stranger to the team, as his daughter plays for him. “I really wanted to coach the Trinity Hall team because I believe in the values of the school and the culture they have developed. They work hard in everything they do and they have a strong respect for one another,” he said. “I have a passion for coaching ice hockey and I was really excited to be given the opportunity to work with these talented athletes.”
The culture Francese brought focuses on a team first mentality. “One of the things I specifically tell the girls is that every person is important to the team,” he explained. “If you attend a Trinity Hall ice hockey game, you will quickly notice that every goal scored turns into a team celebration because the girls understand that everyone contributes to our success.”
Francese has a great relationship with the team. “They know there are times to be serious and times to have fun. We are serious in practice and when we watch film, but the time to have fun is when we are playing the games,” he said. “Having fun is important, that’s why it’s called a game. Having fun gives us the best chance to win. They are going to remember how they felt playing with their teammates rather than the score on the scoreboard.”
This culture seems to be working for Trinity Hall as they are currently 8-2 and ranked second in New Jersey. Both of those losses came against the No. 1 team in the state, Morristown-Beard. Francese considers Morristown-Beard to be the team’s main rival. “It’s not because we don’t like each other, but because of the strengths of the programs,” he said.
“Their record has been a reflection of the hard work of the athletes as well as the addition of new members,” said Gabriella Sorrentino, Assistant Sports Editor for the Trinity Hall Tribune.
Francese said, “My preseason goal was to develop a program that would be competitive with other state programs and to develop a culture that would create friendships and lifelong bonds. Not only have we met those goals but the girls have been responsible for exceeding them.”
The team seems to be embracing this culture. “They are a welcoming and fun group of girls. They are such talented athletes and yet humble. It makes this team so special,” said Francese. “There is a wide span of abilities but everyone is supportive of each other. The more experienced girls are welcoming to the girls just starting to play the sport.”
Like any team, Trinity Hall has its strengths and its weaknesses. The team has a high skill level, good chemistry, speed and a never-give-up attitude, according to Francese. “We also need to continue to work on and improve our attention to details.”
Trinity Hall is led by captains Carolyn Litwin and Reily Francese. They are the only seniors on this young team.
Their top goal scorers are sophomore Elisabeth “Biz” Clements (8 goals) and freshman Alyssa Laurino (7 goals).
Sophomores Adriana Crepaldi and Anna Clements, Biz’ twin sister, are tied with the team lead in assists with nine each and are among the top assist leaders in New Jersey. “They are very unselfish players with high hockey IQs,” said Francese.
Starting goalie Maddie Reynolds is also only a sophomore. “This is a young team with a high ceiling,” he continued.
Sophomore defenseman Noelle Turek was named NJ Devils High School Girls Player of the Month for January. “She was so excited but humble about it and she was happy to share it with her teammates,” said Francese. “She said the reason she won was because she had the best teammates.” This is consistent with the Trinity Hall team culture.
This award was even more special for Turek as she sat out her freshman year with a torn ACL. “She came back and worked really hard to get back onto the ice with her friends,” said Francese.
Sophomore Molly Riggi is among the state leaders in game-winning goals. “She is a playmaker. When you need a big goal, you can count on Molly to take the puck and make something happen,” said Francese. Riggi's success is a combination of her high skill level and usually the result of a key play made by one or more of her teammates.
"Every skater on the ice contributes to a Trinity Hall goal," emphasized Francese, who focuses on the team philosophy and culture. Although individuals on the team have impressive stats, he emphasizes that a person cannot just look at stats to determine who the best players are. “Everyone contributes to the team effort.”
Trinity Hall’s next game is against Randolph. This is the last game before the tournament begins at the end of the month. To continue winning, the Trinity Hall team must stick to its game plan and pay attention to the details according to Francese. “We need to continue to play a strong defensive game and take the chances when we think we should,” he said.
After the regular season, Trinity Hall will be participating in the inaugural NJ Girls Ice Hockey Invitational Tournament, which was organized by William Librera, former Chatham Athletic Director, with some assistance from the NJSIAA. “We saw a growth of girls ice hockey and we wanted to work with the NJSIAA to promote the sport,” said Librera. Currently 12 teams are committed to play.
In December Librera left his AD position at Chatham to become principal at Watchung. “I plan to fulfill my duties to the end of the tournament and pass the baton on to someone else who can take it to great heights in the future,” said Librera.
The final game is scheduled for March 4 at Codey Arena in West Orange. The NJSIAA is providing the venue.
“They have been kind enough to help promote the tournament and by offering a venue to host the final game of the tournament,” Librera said. There is a good chance that Trinity Hall will face off against rival Morristown-Beard in the tournament final.”
“It has been an honor for me to help develop the culture of the ice hockey program,” said Francese. He sees Trinity Hall becoming a girls ice hockey powerhouse in New Jersey. He also feels top young hockey players will want to play for Trinity Hall and the team will always be in competition for the top spot in the state.