It was a two-way street learning experience for the Pioneer girls’ hockey team and by the end of the season the Pioneers were all headed in the right direction and playing their best hockey of the season.
The girls were learning the game from their new coach who was learning how to coach from her talented and passionate players. It was a year of growth, improvement, friendships, respect and of course fun – all served with ice.
“This was my first year coaching let alone head coaching,” says Lea Arend who took over the Pioneers this season. “I have learned a lot and I’m ready for next season. These girls have taught me a lot, especially this out going senior group. They are hard working and excellent leaders, who will have a lasting impact on this team for years to come.”
Arend didn’t take a typical path to becoming a hockey coach at Pioneer High School. First, she was born in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California.
“I grew up an LA Kings fan,” she says. “We had season tickets for awhile. It was always fun.”
Arend moved with her family to Ann Arbor when she was 13 and attended eighth grade at Tappan Middle school. Her dad saw an ad in the paper about an Ann Arbor girls hockey team starting up.
“I played for the Ann Arbor Bobcats, with Sue and Steve Mcdowell as my coaches,” she says. “It was my first experience playing hockey and I was hooked. I went on to play on a girls’ travel hockey team (Maple Leafs) out of Sylvania, Ohio my last two years of high school.”
Playing travel hockey – in another state – required a certain amount of commitment. But her love of the game not only drove her to Ohio but drove her to become the best player she could.
“I was driving about 45 minutes to and from three days a week for practices,” she said. “My mom would drive and I would work on homework. Then my senior year my mom started letting me drive there on my own. As a parent now, I am not sure I would have done that.”
Arend graduated from Pioneer in 1999 and went to Michigan State University where she played all four years on the women’s club ice hockey team. Her senior year in 2003 the Spartans won the ACHA National Championship against the University of Wisconsin 2-1. They also won the CCWHA Regular Season Championship and the CCWHA Tournament Championship.
She loved her time in East Lansing.
“I decided to go to MSU because I was ready to leave Ann Arbor, but wanted to be somewhere that was still pretty close to home,” she said. “My two older sisters had attended U-M and I wanted to do something different. I loved my four years at MSU. It is where I met my husband and a lot of great friends – go green!”
Arend, now 37, is married with two boys (ages 8-12) who both play travel baseball. She is an online teacher with the WAY program (https://www.wayprogram.net) teaching social studies and technology for grades 6-12.
Arend, who hasn’t played in a hockey game since 2013 (MSU alumni game), was thrilled to see that Pioneer had a girls’ hockey team.
“Being able to come coach is very special,” she says. “I was a bit nervous, since this is my first year coaching. But everyone has been so welcoming and supportive every step of the way. My assistant coaches, Karrie and Erin, have been fun to work with and always come to practices with the best drills. And coach Lon has been a life saver.”
She says getting to know each player was her favorite part of the job.
“They each are so different but work well as a group and are supportive of each other,” she said. “I love seeing the joy they have for the sport and each other.”
It was a great season for the Pioneers who reached the Final Four in the state playoffs.
The Pioneers lost 10-2 earlier this month to top-seeded and eventual state champ Farmington Hills Mercy in a state semifinal game at Fraser Hockeyland Ice Arena. Mercy went undefeated in the league this season including a 6-5 win over Pioneer in the regular season.