MORRISTOWN _ Keegan Heher found it "a little harder to hop the bench" when it was time for her to hit the ice.
Heher didn't object to working her way around her Morristown-Beard teammates, though. The crowded bench area was very much welcome as was a packed locker room following a season in which the Crimson sometimes had to make do with six players.
Morristown-Beard, which defeated Pingry, 9-1, in its opener on Wednesday, Dec. 2, now has 19 girls in uniform, a dramatic increase from the 10 listed on the roster for the 2014-15 campaign.
"It's definitely louder," said Heher, sophomore center and one of seven returnees. "I can tell it will be a great season. We've already bonded. There were so few of us before. We're close already and it will show on the ice."
One of the nine freshmen, Jenna Kurz, was 10 seconds into her varsity debut when she gave the Crimson a 1-0 edge, scoring off a pass from Ally Detre and Leslie Phillips. Detre won the faceoff, pushed past a Pingry player and drove wide before passing to Kurz in the middle. Kurz got her stick on the puck and tipped it in.
"We were all astonished," Heher said. "Even our coach (Bruce Driver), said 'Wow! Jenna was only 10 seconds into her first shift.' Jenna definitely made a big impact. She had a big smile on her face after scoring. She was just as surprised as we were. Having her score so quickly is a good sign for the rest of the season. I can't wait to see what she does this year."
Driver, in his 16th season at the helm, was well aware of Kurz, who ended the game with one goal and four assists.
"Jenna is a player I knew of," Driver said. "She's going to be really, really good. She's a solid player. Jenna plays on a high level club team. She's a forward but played everywhere for us today. Jenna's part of a talented young group. Everyone's meshing already."
Two other freshmen, Samantha Hutchinson and Grace Urbano, will be at the core of the defense along with sophomore Jenna Pych and Ali Palazzetti, a returning player.
"The freshmen did great. We're really happy to have them," Morristown-Beard goalie Maggie O'Connell said. "It will help to have more players."
Detre scored the second goal seven minutes into the first period assisted by Kurz and Devin Blanchard. The Crimson converted three more times in the opening stanza, getting scores from Palazzetti, Grace Goodman and Tessa Connell. Blanchard, Detre, Hutchinson and Jenna Pych put in goals in the second period. Pingry's goal, by Caroline Petrow-Cohen, came with 3:04 remaining in the third period.
O'Connell made only four saves before being replaced by Lindsay Pych with 5:23 left in the second period. Pych ended with 12 saves. Lizzy Sengle and Claire Chiperfield are also among the seven players back.
"There were a lot of good things today," Driver said. "I liked our speed, especially the returning players. They played smart, too. We looked good up front. It was a little crazy because it was the first game. We didn't know how Pingry would be. A lot of kids got playing time. It was a really good start."
Morristown-Beard went 16-1 last winter, falling only to Shady Side (Pa.) in its next-to-last game. The squad's accomplishments, in spite of low numbers and injuries, made Driver proud.
"I'm still amazed by what they did," Driver said. "Having six players at times was tough. You don't have a lot of energy at the end. That's why it's nice that we have so many now. We'll see where it goes."
The next three games - versus Mater Dei, Portledge (N.Y.) and Rye Country Day School (Pa.) - will be much more difficult. Portledge, set for Dec. 8, matters most because it is a league game.
"I'm excited about the season," Heher said. "To see all of the new faces and to fill the locker room... I think we'll improve. We all get along very well."
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