Mission AZ girls thriving on competitive boys squads
Nearly everywhere youth hockey is played, the rosters of Mite, Squirt and Pee Wee teams feature plenty of girls playing alongside boys.
But as you progress to the Bantam and Midget levels, it becomes more and more rare.
As players mature, boys typically out-pace their female counterparts in size and strength, and the physical nature of the higher levels becomes a major factor. More often than not, older girls gravitate toward all-female teams, and in other cases they leave the sport behind.
One exception to that rule can be seen within the Mission AZ program in suburban Phoenix. Mission has six girls playing on mixed teams at the Midget level this season.
Reese Middendorf is a defenseman on the 18U AA Red squad and Payton Goltz plays defense and serves as an alternate captain for the 16U AA Red team. On the 16U White team, female players include left wings Caitlin Bailey and Jenna Majewski and defensemen Sofia Martinelli and Darian Kessler.
Mission director of player development Jeremy Goltz said this is the first time the program has had girls playing on boys teams at the 16U AA and 18U AA levels.
“It’s very rare – it says a lot about their character,” he said. “We had a little bit of a test run last year with Payton and Reese to see if they could handle the pace and physicality of the game at a high level. It went very well, and the girls behind them are following in their footsteps. Everyone in the program has been very supportive of it.”
Payton Goltz has spent her entire youth hockey career playing for Mission, where she has played on teams with boys ever since she was a Mite. Not every youth hockey program would provide that type of opportunity, she said.
“Everyone has been really supportive, and the program is really inclusive, which has allowed me to progress to this level,” she said. “You’re not treated any differently because you’re a girl, and I am really grateful to have been able to work my way up the same way the boys have.”
Goltz said she never considered not playing on a mixed team as she got older, despite the fact that girls often make the move to all-female teams once they reach the Bantam and Midget levels.
“I wanted to stick with Mission and play with the teammates that I have played with forever,” she said. “I’ve always felt that playing with the boys puts me on the ice at a really high level. I want to play college hockey, and I know the speed and the intensity of the play are going to prepare me for that.
“The biggest challenge has been the physicality, and it took me some time to get used to it as a first-year 16 last year. The boys are just naturally bigger and stronger for the most part, but I’ve learned to play smart and adjust to it. I know some other girls are kind of scared of the physicality when they get to this level, but I’ve found a way to overcome it, and I love it.”
Goltz is tall for her age and has spent extra time in the weight room improving her strength the last few years so she can take hits and dish them out as well.
Another concern that sometimes keeps girls from playing on boys teams as they get into their high school years is that they won’t have the same opportunity to be seen by college coaches.
“That’s the next test that we have to pass,” Jeremy Goltz explained. “All our coaches are making the extra effort to be in touch with college coaches and provide opportunities for our girls to play in showcase events to help them with recruiting.
“It has really worked out, and I’m very proud of that. I feel like we’re breaking some ground here.”
— Greg Ball
(Oct. 23, 2019)