The women’s-only College Hockey America is the smallest of all NCAA Division I conferences, with six member teams. That limited membership has hardly deterred prospective quality recruits, however, as evidenced by the number of impressive women’s College Hockey America freshman seasons.
Among the six teams, the two in Western Pennsylvania have especially stood out with their ability to attract high-end talent. As shown by this list, the Mercyhurst Lakers and Robert Morris Colonials have have impressed in this regard.
The reigning women’s hockey national rookie of the year is a Colonial. The player who put up one of the best rookie campaigns in NCAA history was a Laker.
The following list ranks the 10 greatest women’s College Hockey America freshman year performances, taking only the six current member teams into consideration.
10. Isabel Menard, Syracuse, 2009-10
Menard was the CHA rookie of the year and named to the all-rookie and all-conference first team in her freshman season. In the Orange’s second season as a varsity program, she led the team with 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points in 35 games, good for third among all rookies nationally.
9. Nicole Hensley, Lindenwood, 2012-13
Hensley was the goalie for Lindenwood in the team’s inaugural Division I season, as it transitioned to being a full-time CHA member. As the backbone of a new team, she unsurprisingly faced a lot of shots, and did her part by turning away 1,174 of them.
While the Lions went 7-26-3 overall, Hensley managed to retain a .922 save percentage, which would ultimately tie for her career best. What really stood out, though, was her performance in the first game of the CHA tournament against Robert Morris. Hensley made 90 saves in the game that the her team eventually lost, 2-1, in triple-overtime after being outshot, 92-42.
8. Kirsten Welsh, Robert Morris, 2015-16
Welsh led all CHA defenders in scoring and was second among all Colonials and all rookies in the conference with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists). Of her goals, five came on the power play, which ranked third among freshman defenders in the country.
Welsh was the first freshman to lead CHA blueliners in scoring since another member of this list did it in the 2011-12 season. She was named to the all-USCHO rookie team for her standout performance.
7. Brittany Howard, Robert Morris, 2013-14
Howard helped lead the way offensively for the Colonials as a freshman. She scored 17 goals and added 24 assists for 41 points, which tied for the team lead. This point total was also tops among all rookies in the nation.
Howard scored timely goals, with five game-winners and five on the power play. She also had a very impressive four-goal performance against Maine. She was selected for the all-CHA second and rookie teams, and the all-USCHO rookie team.
6. Emily Janiga, Mercyhurst, 2012-13
Janiga was one of two high-scoring rookies on the Lakers in 2012-13. She tallied 41 points with 19 goals and 22 assists. This ranked second among freshmen on her team, behind Jenna Dingeldein. Her point total ranked fifth among rookies nationally and third in the CHA.
Janiga’s performance that year especially stands out because of the nature of a number of her goals. She scored five game-winners and eight power-play goals, establishing her clutch value early and often.
Another impressive aspect was how she rose to the scene so quickly, scoring a hat trick in her second career game.
5. Molly Byrne, Mercyhurst, 2011-12
Byrne put up a very impressive freshman campaign on the blueline for the Lakers. She scored six goals and added 28 assists for 34 points. This was seventh among all players in the conference, and first among defenders.
On a national level, her point total was in the top five among defenders. This proved to be Byrne’s best year in terms of offensive output.
4. Jessica Dodds, Robert Morris, 2013-14
Dodds emerged as the starting goalie without delay, and went on to set a single-season program record with 21 victories. Overall, she went 21-5-3 with a .932 save percentage and 1.66 goals-against average, also program bests.
These numbers ranked among the top 10 nationally, and were the best among freshman netminders that year. Dodds also earned five shutouts.
Her performance was recognized with CHA rookie of the year and all-conference first-team and rookie-team honors. She also was named to the all-USCHO rookie team.
3. Valerie Chouinard, Mercyhurst, 2005-06
Chouinard was the first of two consecutive Lakers to lead all national rookies in points, scoring 26 goals and 25 assists for 51 points. This was sixth among all players in the nation, and first in the conference.
She was a clutch player for Mercyhurst, scoring six game-winning goals and seven power-play goals. Her point total led the Lakers, and her performance earned her a number of awards. These included CHA player and rookie of the year and the USCHO.com rookie of the year.
2. Jaycee Gebhard, Robert Morris, 2016-17
Gebhard was part of an impressive duo, opposite the aforementioned Howard, atop the Colonials line chart during the program’s most successful season to date. She tallied 22 goals and 24 assists for 46 points in her freshman season.
Her point total was the most by a rookie in RMU history. It also ranked first among all rookies nationally, and second only to Howard in the conference. What especially stood out was her performance on the power play, where she led the nation with nine goals.
Her performance earned her a number of awards, most notably the CHA and Women’s Hockey Commissioners’ Association National rookie of the year.
1. Meghan Agosta, Mercyhurst, 2006-07
Agosta had a dominant collegiate career, which she began with an outstanding freshman campaign. She led the nation with 38 goals and 74 points that year, and still remains the NCAA career leader in both of those categories.
Included in that standout first season were 11 game-winning goals, 16 power-play goals and six shorthanded goals. She was truly dominant in all situations for her team, and was a key reason for its incredible 32-2-3 record. Her performance warranted significant national recognition, and she was named a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award.
In a season that included some other standout rookies in other conferences, including Kelli Stack, Meghan Duggan, Sarah Parsons and Allie Thunstrom, Agosta was the clear standout.