Girls hockey: Chloe Lownsbury is a Willmar Cardinal cornerstone
Junior center has emerged as Willmar's leading scorer as the Cardinals make a push for a section championship
WILLMAR — Fueled by a strong off-season in the summer of 2022 and game-day peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Chloe Lownsbury's development has pushed her to be a cornerstone of success for the Willmar girls hockey team this season.
Lownsbury, a junior and veteran varsity player, said she feels the jump from being an underclassmen to an upperclassmen is "big" because of the increase in expectations of the role she plays.
But, Lownsbury has responded to the pressure well, recently becoming Willmar's leading goal-scorer this season.
"I feel like my game sense has increased so much; I know where to be," Lownsbury said. "Being in the right place, knowing what to do and just being able to find the back of the net and have a quick enough shot has really helped me. That hasn't been easy, obviously. It's been a long time for me to get where I am right now. It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of shooting."
Lownsbury's combination of hard work and completing a requirement of shooting at least 10,000 pucks during the off-season has led her to have 13 goals and six assists in 19 games. In her previous three varsity seasons all together, she had 11 goals and 16 assists in 75 games.
Willmar head coach Eric Setrum has coached Lownsbury since she joined the varsity team in eighth grade. He has had the pleasure of watching her progress over her four-year varsity career.
"Chloe's been really dedicated to improving. She's gotten stronger, quicker. She's really trying to develop her shot," Setrum said. "She's just matured into becoming more of a hockey player than just a good athlete."
With her growth in maturity, Setrum is comfortable putting Lownsbury in any game situation.
Lownsbury, a long-time center, is apart of the penalty kill and power-play units. She has scored all five of Willmar's power-play goals this season.
"She's learning the game more. She's seeing it better than she has in the past," Setrum said. "She's seeing the plays develop versus just going out there and playing. It's really helped her."
Another attribute that has helped Lownsbury flourish this season is the confidence in her play. Setrum believes it's been the biggest change in her game.
"Chloe's not as hesitant on the ice," Setrum said. "She's initiating the play rather than waiting for the play to happen."
Lownsbury knows the importance of playing with confidence. And while Setrum has recognized her ability to play with it this season, she wants to be more consistent with it.
"Some games, I'll have more confidence," Lownsbury said. "But every single game I gotta bring that and I gotta be a leader."
One game Lownsbury recently shined with confidence was on Saturday. She recorded her first career varsity hat trick in Willmar's 3-1 victory over Northern Lakes.
While Lownsbury is not an official captain on the team, Setrum recognizes she helps lead the Cardinals by example through her work ethic, eagerness to learn and willingness to get better.
"You don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader," Setrum said. "Just because you don't have a 'C' doesn't means girls don't look at you and don't expect you to be a leader. She's really jumped into that role."
With new goals in mind, Lownsbury and Co. want to place in the top three of the Central Lakes Conference and win the Section 6A championship.
Willmar is currently in fourth place at 5-4 in the conference and 11-7-1 overall. Alexandria is first at 8-0-1. Fergus Falls is second at 6-2-1 and Brainerd/Little Falls is third at 5-2-2.
The Cardinals have the opportunity to take home the Section 6A regular-season title if they continue to win games and also defeat Fergus Falls on Jan. 31.
Fergus Falls (18-4-1) sits atop of the section with a 3-0-0 record. Willmar is 6-1-0 and River Lakes (7-13-1) is 2-2-0.
Setrum believes two of these three teams will play for the Section 6A championship at 7 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Alexandria.
"Everything points towards the end of the year and being ready for that time of year," Setrum said. "The last three of four years it's been those three teams."
Lownsbury will look to continue to find the back of the net as the Cardinals also search to make it back to the state tournament for the first time since the 2019-2020 season.
"It would be so fun," said Lownsbury, who was on the 2019-20 team as an eighth-grader. "Those memories, you never forget. It would be so fun to go back and do that again."