Recap: Riverhawks fly to highest heights yet

Two years ago, the North Wright County Riverhawks earned the first state berth in program history. But they were a little stung by dropping the conference title to Buffalo for the first time in three years. So last year, the Riverhawks went out and recaptured that title. But then they were shocked in the section semifinals, coming up well short of the state tournament.
This year, with a new coach, and the loss of a few key pieces, it seemed a bit far-fetched that NWC would put together the combination it had long been dreaming of. It turned out to be quite realistic.
The Riverhawks, under Coach Jason Johnson, got off to a fast start, playing and beating impressive competition in the non-conference portion of their schedule. That stretch, which included wins over South St. Paul, Roseau and Thief River Falls, led them directly into conference play. The Hawks’ roll didn’t stop there. NWC picked up a 4-0 shutout of conference rival Buffalo in the early going, and sprinted out to a lead in the conference standings. Buffalo would eventually reel them in with a come-from-behind win at Moose Sherritt Ice Arena, but the Hawks’ early season success had already secured them a share of the conference title, their second in a row.
Now it was on to the postseason, and a chance to combine a conference title with a section title for the first time in program history.
North Wright County played three postseason games. They allowed exactly zero goals, and with that came zero losses, and a section championship.
At state, NWC lost a heartbreaker in the first round, but bounced back to pick up a consolation semifinal win over Irondale before settling for a sixth place finish.
The win marked NWC’s first-ever victory at the state tournament. The season marked one of the best total packages the Hawks have put together in program history. And NWC’s senior class, led by Dani Sibley (31 goals, 25 assists), Maddi Sjelin (12 goals, 24 assists) and Rachel Heiber (17 goals, 23 assists), marks one of the best classes to come through the program.
“It’s been a dream season, it really has,” said Johnson, after the state tournament. “It’s been filled with a lot of highs and very few lows. It starts with that senior group. Those kids are mature kids that are pros. They handle themselves like pros, they conduct themselves like that. They just have such great attitudes. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with them.”
The Hawks finished the season with a record of 24-6-1.

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