By Ross Forman
Warren opened the season against defending state champion Fenwick, then faced the 2018 state champion New Trier.
Let’s just say, things can only go up from there, as the Blue Devils fell 9-0 and then 10-0, respectively.
“While the score may have been lopsided in both games, the Warren girls have never given up. They are upbeat and encourage each other on the ice and in the locker room,” said Warren head coach Manny Ballestero, 54, in his 16th season coaching – his ninth for Warren.
“We had seven players graduate from last year’s team and most of our incoming players are newer to the game of hockey. We have 11 skaters and two goalies, (and) both goalies skate out for us when not in the net. So, our overall skill level is not where it has been in the past few years. But that said, I do not know if I have coached an overall team that loves the game as much or is more committed.
“These girls can see that we do not have the overall talent (of other teams), but they just want to play. They want to have fun, on the ice and off. I can tell you that while we might not win a ton of games this year, these girls will play hard from the opening whistle until the end, and they will support each other doing it.”
The Warren goalies are Maddie Lonosky and Emma Torkelson, and each also is a skilled skater.
The team’s defense is led by Myka Smith and Ruby Aufmann.
“I like to have my teams (be) aggressive on the forecheck in the offensive zone, but, because of the inexperience of some of our forwards, this can be challenging right now. But they are coming along and I feel our attack will be much better by midseason,” Ballestero said.
Senior Taylor Owrutsky is in her third season playing for Warren. “She has played both offense and defense for our team and, in my opinion, every coach out there wants a diverse player like this who can jump from defense to wing to center at any time during the season or a game,” Ballestero said. “If someone gets injured, or isn’t feeling good, or is just having a bad game, I know I can trust moving Taylor to whatever position I ask and she will play very hard and do well.”
Junior Annie Lichter also is a three-year player. “Since she has started with us, she has been probably our most athletic player,” Ballestero said. “She now is also developing into one of our key contributors on offense. Annie is a very smart player and her shot has gotten so much better in the last year. Annie just needs to gain some confidence in herself and she will definitely start to put the puck in the net.”
Noteworthy newcomers include freshmen forwards Nicole McAvis and Ariunbilig Arslanbaatar. “Both of these girls are new to hockey and while they have a long way to go, they are very passionate about the game. I see them as being key contributors in a few years,” Ballestero said.
The breakout star this season for Warren likely will be Megan Flesher, in only her second year playing hockey. “She is having to adjust to playing center for us, but as she gets comfortable playing that position, I believe she will breakout as a player,” Ballestero said. “She always seems to have a smile on her face, (but) look out on the ice (when) she is a ball of determination.”
Ballestero, who lives in Wadsworth, works as a civil engineer.
“I went to Clarkson University in New York, (a school with) NCAA Division I men’s hockey and women’s hockey teams – that’s really where my passion for hockey started,” he said. “I did not play for them, but I went to every college game and played as much intramural hockey as I could. When I got out of college, I took some learn-to-play hockey classes in Boston, and one of the classes was led by Gordie Howe. He was not as big as I thought he might be, but that guy could really shoot the puck. Since then I have been playing in (adult) leagues. My Bull’s-Eye Boring Team has been playing in the Northbrook league since 1999. I am definitely the oldest and most worn-out player on the team.”
Ballestero’s coaching career has included time with the Lake County Atoms, Highland Park Falcons, Crystal Lake Yellow Jackets and others.
In his first season coaching the Warren Blue Devils in 2011-12, he was selected as the Illinois High School Girls’ Coach of the Year.
And the 2012-13 Warren team defeated New Trier Silver 1-0 to win the Founders Cup Championship. And his daughter, Amanda, scored the game-winner in the championship game.
Warren went 11-13-1 last season.
“I thought we had a great group last year, led by forwards Jordan Moore and Michelle Byker, and defenseman Abbey Triebe. We finished the year strong, but could not get back to the Founders Cup championship after losing a heartbreaking triple overtime game to Glenbrook,” Ballestero said.
“I think (Metro Girls) is a great place for all levels of players. Warren has had our share of double-rostered girls, from AA and AAA teams, but every year Warren also has a couple of players who have never played hockey before, or maybe they were a figure skater. We welcome all. The high school league is a fun environment where they can have good competition and also develop as players and people.
“I do not expect a lot of wins this season, but I believe we will improve so much that next year other teams better look out for Warren.”
On The Bench With … Warren Girls Head Coach Manny Ballestero
The 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Will Be: “Before the season started I might have said the New York Rangers after acquiring Artemi Panerin, but right now I think Colorado looks really strong.”
All-time Favorite Chicago Blackhawks Player: Chris Chelios – “I liked everything about his game; he was so passionate about the game.”
Hardest Slapshot on Warren: Ruby Aufmann
Most Accurate Shot On Warren: Annie Lichter
Fastest Skater on Warren: Myka Smith
Best Playmaker on Warren: Megan Flesher – “(Although) she has not been playing hockey for that long, she naturally has a good on ice hockey IQ.”
Player Who You Could See As a Coach One Day: Myka Smith – “She is great at combining criticism with encouragement to other players on the team and she is not afraid to speak up.”
Family Facts: “I have a 25 year-old son who played for Warren and he is now a ‘Tanker’ in the U.S. Army at Ft. Stewart in Georgia and a 23 year-old daughter who played for Warren and is a senior and the captain at Davenport University in Grand Rapids. Michigan.”
Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at Rossco814@aol.com.