Madison Schoenberg is four grade levels above one of her teammates on West Fargo United’s top line. Schoenberg anchors the first line at left wing, alongside an eighth-grader and sophomore.
Schoenberg is one of only four upperclassmen on the United roster, which has eight freshmen and five eighth-graders who make up the bulk of it.
The senior wing went into this year knowing that she may need to shift her style of play to fill her team’s lack-of-experience gap. Schoenberg was the United’s third-leading scorer last year, and sat in the middle of the pack earlier in her high school career.
Now, she sits atop her team in scoring, leading the United with 16 points (10 goals, 6 assists) in 15 games this season. Schoenberg, 17, is also top-15 statewide in individual scoring.
“I've kind of always been a little behind some of the top girls that were older than me,” Schoenberg said. “I was hoping that this year, it might be my year to get up there. And I knew I needed to step it up considering we’re so young.”
The girls hockey numbers in West Fargo have shifted in recent years. There weren’t enough girls for a 14U club hockey team this year, so the handful of eighth-graders were moved up to varsity.
“It’s been interesting. It's a very different dynamic than I'm used to,” Schoenberg said. “But the girls I think are starting to pick it up a little bit. I'd say it's a little bit of a struggle with the age gap, sometimes trying to get it to click that this is varsity.”
The United have gone through a few bumps this year. It’s been a challenge to get the youth-filled bench to adjust to not everybody getting equal ice time, and to realize that postseason isn’t a guarantee. But for the most part, the girls are starting to pick it up, Schoenberg said.
“You don't just automatically get to go to state,” Schoenberg said. “You have to win games, you have put in the work to get there. You don't automatically get to go. I think that's been hard for some of them to see.”
The United currently sit at fourth in the standings, and are 6-9 overall and 5-5 in the Eastern Dakota Conference.
Schoenberg said she’s never been in a position where she’s had to think about not making an appearance at the state tournament.
“It’s been really weird for me, and it’s hard for me to comprehend being where we're at, but I'm looking forward to it,” she said. “I think we’ll step up and do well.”
Schoenberg thinks the United could make a statement at the end of February. She said a lot of stuff can happen at the state tournament because it’s a different atmosphere. When she was a freshman, West Fargo was tied for first in the state, and lost in the first round.
“Everybody wants to be in that state-title game, and everyone is pushing so much harder. It's such a different level of intensity,” she said. “So especially us, we're going in as an underdog. People might look down on us a little bit, but if we come out hard, we have people that can score, we have a goalie that can save lots of shots when she's on her game. If we put it all together and they're not expecting it, stuff can happen that most people won’t expect.”
West Fargo head coach Pat Johnson is hoping to at least make it to state.
The team is growing slowly, but they’re still very young, Johnson said. The youth on the United roster have to play out of necessity.
“Are some of them totally ready? No, but you know what, they're getting ready and they're getting better, and they’re competing,” Johnson said. “The future, it’s going to be really good. But we’re gonna still compete and give it everything we got for this year,” he said. “We're not going to back down and just kind of write it off. We're going to continue to try and improve.”
Schoenberg wasn’t always one of West Fargo’s top players coming through, but she has consistently been a hard worker, Johnson said.
“She ends up playing on some of those top spots because of her work ethic and willingness to do what it takes to succeed,” Johnson said. “She definitely wants to win. She’s a good role model, especially by how hard she works on and off the ice. Even if she's sick, she's gonna have to be extremely sick for her to miss. She’ll play through little knicks and sickness.”
Schoenberg, who’s in her 11th year of playing the sport, has missed just two practices throughout her entire high school career, and those were for state student council.
“I don’t like to miss. It doesn’t matter if I’m sick, I go. I figure it out,” Schoenberg said. “I like to be there and be with my team because if everyone has to be there, it’s a team effort.”
Having been on varsity since she was a freshman, Schoenberg knows what’s expected at that level.
“She’s got the experience. If you've looked at our roster, we don't have many,” Johnson said. “She is that leader as far as that goes, and what it takes to succeed. She's kind of a role model for the younger kids at the same time in showing that you gotta work hard and you got to keep developing.”
One of the United’s captains, Schoenberg is also a leader away from the ice. For the last three years, she’s spent every Wednesday evening at her church, Faith Lutheran, volunteering to do another three years of confirmation as a junior guide.
She also plays soccer, is the North Dakota National Honor Society president, a member of student council and the Fuel Up to Play 60 club, and is in choir.
“I'm involved in a lot of stuff, so I'm kind of used to things being hectic,” she said. “I like it that way. But yeah, it does get very overwhelming sometimes, but I like it.”