It was a strong rookie season at the NCAA level for former Diamond Energy Female Midget AAA Wildcats captain Taylor Kirwan.

The Gull Lake product was named to the College Hockey America (CHA) conference all-rookie team after Year 1 with the Lindenwood University Lions.

"It's pretty cool honestly, being on defence you don't really get recognized that much, but it was pretty awesome being recognized in my first year here," she said "Not only on the team, but also in the league." 

Kirwan racked up two goals and 11 assists over 33 games this season. Her 11 assists ranked T-2 on the team. As well, her 13 points were most among defenceman, and the eighth-highest total on the Lions.

Her first season south of the border at the NCAA level was one full of growth, after a bit of a steep learning curve to start.

"After the first couple of games, once you got your feet under you and started getting along with the girls - the girls on this team made it really easy coming in actually," Kirwan noted. "They're always encouraging you and pushing you to be better, so once you started making connections with them, you'd start to see them be more confident and patient with the plays you make."

"Once you start building relationships, it takes your game to the next level, which really allowed me to succeed and have a good first year."

As a team, the Lions finished last in the six-team CHA conference with a 7-22-4 overall record, capped off by a 4-1 loss to Syracuse Wednesday night.

"The stats show it wasn't quite the best season, but what they don't show is that we did really, really improve as a team," explained Kirwain. "Even though we didn't get that many wins, it doesn't feel like that. Our league was really, really tight. A couple weeks ago we beat the first-place team 5-1. It honestly could have gone either way."

Kirwan was one of three Lions to crack the CHA all-rookie team, signalling a possible sign of things to come.

"What to take away from (this year) is this program is just going to get better and stronger from here. Now we have even more experienced players - we don't lose that many players this year. Honestly, I'm just excited for next year. It's just showing that Lindenwood is just going to get better in the future, and we actually do have a bright future."

Kirwan amassed 66 points in 105 games over four-and-a-half seasons with the Wildcats in the SFMAAAHL.

A pretty cool experience awaits this fall, as the former captain will be reunited with current Wildcats captain Taylor Lind, who is committed to play for the Lions after this season.

"I'm excited, it feels weird not playing with her this year. But, I'm really excited to go home, train with her in the summer," said Kirwan. "Then, come in next year, I can get her used to the girls really quickly, she can settle into the team, and hopefully she puts up some big points next year."

"I think we have high hopes that she will be a goal-scorer. Honestly hope for the best for her, and hopefully she gets on that all-rookie team next year. I think she'll be set up for as much success as she wants."

Meanwhile, Lind and the Wildcats open Round 1 of SFMAAAHL playoffs tonight. Swift Current hosts the Battlefords Sharks in Game 1 of their best-of-five battle at 7:45 p.m. from Fairview West.

"I hope for a win, I'll be keeping updated with the stats on this long bus ride home," Kirwan shared. "I think they have a pretty strong team this year, and I think they can really put a dent in the league. Hopefully for Taylor Lind, she can give it one last go round in Midget AAA."

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