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Falcon women No. 1

UW-River Falls' Emma Nordness (center) is mobbed by her teammates after scoring her second goal of the game to give the Falcons an 11-0 lead on their way to a 12-0 win over Finlandia University Sunday at Hunt Arena. The 12 goals set a team mark for most goals in a game and the win extended the top-ranked Falcons unbeaten streak to 23 straight games. Bob Burrows photo

The UW-River Falls women's hockey team has accomplished a lot since its inception in 1999. But it's never been ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Until now.

The Falcons, by virtue of a weekend sweep over Finlandia University, coupled with previous No. 1 Rochester Institute of Technology's loss to Oswego Saturday, moved into the top spot in this week's poll released Monday afternoon.

UW-RF beat Finlandia 7-1 Saturday and 12-0 Sunday at Hunt Arena. The 12 goals is a team record for most goals in a game.

The Falcons have been ranked nationally for 38 straight weeks but have never been No. 1. They are currently 20-0-3 on the season and have already clinched their third NCHA regular season title with one weekend remaining. UW-RF is the only undefeated team in college hockey, men's or women's, in any division.

The 20 wins this year ties the school record for most wins in a season with the 2002-03 and 2008-09 squads. Both those team won NCHA titles and advanced to the NCAA Division III Frozen Four.

Head coach Joe Cranston, the only coach the Falcons have ever known, said a national title has been the goal of this year's team all season long.

"The girls are pretty fired up about that," he said. "I've been talking about it ever since we lost at Gustavus last year in the first round of the national tournament."

This year the Falcons have wins over nationally ranked UW-Superior and seventh-ranked Gustavus. Their three ties have come against Superior, St. Norbert and Adrian. Superior is currently ranked No. 10 in the nation.

The Falcons are currently third in NCAA Division III in scoring, averaging 4.43 goals per game. UW-RF is eighth in scoring defense, allowing just 1.52 goals per game.

The Falcons' depth has been a key factor to their success. They have six players who have scored at least 10 goals this season and 10 who have accumulated double digits in total points.

"We have four first lines," Cranston said. "I think any one of our four lines could be a first line on any other team."

Despite the success, Cranston said the team has remained grounded.

"Same old approach," he said. "We have to stay focused and play smart and consistent, and not get caught up in the polls and bids. Just go out and play our game."

The Falcons play their final two games of the regular season this weekend at Marian University. They will host a first round NCHA O'Brien Cup playoff series at Hunt Arena in late February. Exact game dates and times will be determined. If the Falcons win that series, they would host the NCHA semifinals and finals in early March. Once again, dates and times will be determined.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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