Heading into the 2022-23 season, a key theme for the Gustavus Adolphus Golden Gusties involved redemption. After suffering a visceral overtime loss in the 2022 NCAA Division III national championship versus Middlebury College, the primary objective was to not only return to the finals, but capture the elusive championship. For team captain Kayla Vrieze, in her final season for the Gusties, the championship goal took on tremendous importance.
Remembering the heartbreak that last season’s Finals loss held on the Senior Class, it was not an outcome that Vrieze wanted to repeat. With a tremendous maturity, she held an empathic awareness for said Class, showing compassion for the devastating conclusion to their seasons, and careers. To come back for one more season and bring the Golden Gusties to unprecedented heights resulted in a defining moment in her glorious Golden Gusties career.
“It was very special to come back and win the national tournament this year, especially with it being my last year. For everyone, it was heartbreaking to lose the championship game in overtime last year.
However, it hit the seniors especially hard as they did not get another chance at it, like the rest of us would. Therefore, being able to make it back to the Championship game and come out on the other side of it, is the most amazing feeling.”
Finishing the season with 27 wins, placing first in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), the Gusties path to the championship began by defeating Augsburg in the conference championship game. The NCAA Quarterfinal involved an epic 2-1 victory versus the archrival Wisconsin River-Falls Finals, a game which saw all goals scored in the first period.
Vrieze, who led all Gusties blueliners in scoring, earning the MIAC Defensive Player of the Year Award, played a key role in the Semifinal triumph against the dynastic Plattsburgh Cardinals. With the Cardinals enjoying a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, Vrieze and Brooke Power assisted on a game tying goal by Hailey Holland, who enjoyed MIAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. With Katie McCoy recording 10 saves in the third period, Lily Mortenson provided the overtime heroics, a 3-2 overtime final enabling the Gusties one step closer to its championship dream.
Adding to the drama of a hard-fought playoff stretch, the National Championship game versus Amherst resulted in a triple overtime affair. With Kaitlyn Holland scoring the golden goal, Vrieze and her fellow seniors enjoyed the honor of finishing their careers with the majesty of a championship. Recording eight shots in the game, Vrieze also contributed five blocked shots. Gaining a celebrated closure to her career, the result was a special place in team history. Serving as captain for the first Gusties women’s team to win the Frozen Four, the magnitude of this achievement remains one to fully absorb.
“I do not think it has fully hit me yet how much of an honor it is to have been a captain of a team that will go down in history. I know in 20 years, my teammates and I will be looking back and reminiscing on how this was one of the best times of our lives. So right now, I’m just trying to soak it all in.”
While one of the proudest aspects of a national championship allowed head coach Mike Carroll after 24 seasons, numerous accolades leading up to the milestone solidified Vrieze’s legacy among the Gusties greats. Alongside Hailey Holland and Katie McCoy, the Most Valuable Player of the NCAA Division III Frozen Four, all three earned a place on the CCM/AHCA Women’s Division III All-America West Hockey Team. Vrieze, also a Finalist for the Laura Hurd Award, enjoyed her second All-America selection, becoming only the sixth player in Gusties history to enjoy the feat.
Equally impressive is an incredible proficiency in the classroom, embodying the essence of a student-athlete. Bestowed the honor of the 2022 Elite 90 Award, including a place on the 2021-22 CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team, Vrieze, a major in public accounting, the demonstration of dedication and character is evident in all facets of her experience at Gustavus Adolphus. Running parallel to her consecutive All-America West honors, the prestige of a second straight Elite 90 Award added to her place in Gusties honor.
Joining former track and field star Elizabeth Weiers as the only Golden Gusties student-athletes to achieve the feat in consecutive years, the criteria for the award involves the highest cumulative grade-point average for a student-athlete (at least a Sophomore) competing for an NCAA title. As a side note, Vrieze is the seventh women’s ice hockey player to have earned an Elite 90 Award, the first being Sarah Moe back in 2002.
While Vrieze has set a tremendous standard of excellence with her achievements, propelled into the pantheon of Division III luminaries, the feeling of accomplishment was made greater by the feeling of unity. Recounting how viewing parties on campus added to the relevance of the program, plus an invitation to a Minnesota Wild NHL game, highlighted by a handful of players proudly garbed in their black jerseys appearing on the big screen, the sense of celebration extended into the community, making an historic championship much more meaningful.
“It is always a good feeling to get recognized individually but a National Championship was always my goal as a player. Earning the Elite 90 award and All-America honors definitely added to the magic but nothing was more important to me than winning a National Championship.
Truly, it’s been amazing to see the support we have received from our family, friends, school and state. We had between 80-90 friends and family that traveled out to Amherst with us to cheer us on and make the weekend even more special.
On top of that, there were viewing parties on campus at Gustavus for our games and a welcome party for when we got back. It was a surreal feeling to pull into the parking lot and see fellow athletes, coaches, faculty and students cheering for us as we got off the bus.
Lastly, we were fortunate to get honored at the Wild game and will be getting honored at a Twins game in April. All of it has definitely made winning even more special.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated“