By David Willis
---- — It was the moment she had waited four years to achieve, but had dreamed of for even longer.
It was the moment she had worked toward since she was a freshman, overcoming disappointments that would have caused countless other athletes to simply give up.
When the puck found Laura Ritzer’s stick, she knew exactly what to do.
“It was off a rebound and the puck came right to my stick,” Ritzer remembered. “I had an open net and I put it into the net. It was amazing.”
After being sent to the JV team each of the past two seasons, Ritzer not only made the varsity team this season as a senior, she was named a captain and, last Wednesday, scored her first career varsity goal in a win over archrival Central Catholic.
But long before that goal, Ritzer established herself as one of the leaders of the red-hot Andover girls hockey team, which entered the week 7-2-1.
“Laura is a natural leader and the girls really look up to her,” Golden Warriors coach Liz Keady said. “She is hard-working, consistent and does whatever she needs to do to succeed. She stuck with it when things weren’t going her way. She is also the greatest teammate anyone could ask for.”
After catching the hockey bug as a child, Ritzer began playing in the youth ranks. As a freshman at Andover High, she tried out for and made the Golden Warriors varsity hockey team.
“It was exciting,” she said, “I didn’t play very much, but it was a really good team and I learned a lot from the older kids. It was fun.”
Following that season, however, Ritzer’s hockey career would hit a disappointing snag.
As a sophomore, she was sent down to the junior varsity hockey squad. A season later, she once again tried out for the varsity team, only to again end up back on the JV team.
“It was really frustrating,” she said. “I thought about quitting a little bit. But after I got over the disappointment, I saw that it was a way to get better.”
Instead of giving up on the sport and walking away, Ritzer dedicated herself to sticking with hockey and working toward her goal of once again earning her spot on the varsity team.
“I knew that hockey was a sport that I loved and wanted to play,” she said. “I knew I had another chance to make the team. Being on the JV team was still playing hockey, and I wanted to play. Coach (Ed) Oteri is a great coach and the girls were great. It was still fun and I worked hard.”
That dedication and passion made quite an impression on Keady, who was hired before last season as the head coach of the Golden Warriors.
“The JV team is very small and is actually funded by the youth program,” Keady said. “But she stuck with it and worked so hard to get better. She was also an excellent leader as captain of the JV team.”
Once winter arrived this season, Ritzer had visions of varsity in her head.
“You never really know what is going to happen,” she said. “But I knew that I had a chance because I worked really hard. It was nerve-racking. But when I found out, it was really amazing. When my coach told me, it meant so much to me. All my hard work had finally paid off.”
But that was just the start.
Soon after, she received an even bigger surprise, when she was named a tri-captain, alongside longtime friends Weezie Gross and Mikayla Panneton.
“We didn’t pick the captains right away,” Ritzer said. “We told the coaches who we thought would be the best captains and the coaches made the final decision. I guess the kids thought I would be a good decision.
“I was so excited. All of my teammates were really excited for me. It was the end of practice when they told us and everyone was congratulating us. I was really surprised.”
Keady said the decision was an easy one.
“It was unanimous that they felt strongly she should be a captain,” said the coach. “We have a tremendous amount of confidence in her. She is an excellent leader. She puts others’ needs ahead of hers and she has passion for the game.”
Behind Ritzer’s leadership, Andover is off to a 7-2-1 start, including a 4-1-1 record in its last five games following a win in the game dedicated to Ritzer’s late sister, Colleen, on Monday.
What is next? Ritzer is hoping for a run at a state title.
“That would be amazing,” she said. “To do that, as a senior, would just be unbelievable. And I feel like we have the team to do it.”