Sports

Park City girls’ improbable road to the USA Hockey National Championships

Utah Lady Grizzlies' Cinderella story shows how Park City's youth is redefining girls hockey in Utah

PARK CITY, Utah — Gianna Monestere, Morgan Vesco, Savannah Bennett, and Kira Sun represented the Utah Lady Grizzlies in the prestigious 2024 Girls Tier II USA Hockey National Championships on April 3 – 7. From early morning practices to competing against the nation’s elite, the Lady Grizzlies’ journey to Nationals was nothing short of a Cinderella story.

“Hockey is relatively new for our state… Yet, we made it to Nationals. We played against the best of the best from other states,” Melanie Monestere, mother of Gianna, said.

Melanie recalled one particular hard-fought tournament this season in Massachusetts when the Utah Lady Grizzlies faced off against a top team from Princeton. They initially lost but later triumphed in a rematch that required them to start their day before dawn. “It was amazing to see how inspired these girls are, how hard they’ve worked,” Melanie said. The Lady Grizzlies went up against many elite boarding schools, while Utahns can barely field a team. Gianna herself technically should’ve been playing on the 14U team, but since they didn’t have enough girls, she played for the 16U team.

Melanie reminisced about the early days when Gianna, having grown up in a hockey-enriched environment in Minnesota, transitioned from ice skating competitions to expressing a desire to play hockey. The shift from playing co-ed hockey with the Park City Ice Miners to joining the Utah Lady Grizzlies, the only all-girls team in Utah (aside from the Ogden Lady Mustangs, a hockey development program for younger girls), provided Gianna with new challenges and opportunities. “Joining the Lady Grizzlies gave her an opportunity to develop into a much better hockey player,” said Melanie.

Teammate Morgan Vesco credits her perseverance, teamwork, and relentless determination to YSA, where she learned about the pillars of sport.

“This winter, my summer sport stole my focus for a few weeks, and in mid-February, I competed at the US Sailing Olympic Team Trials in the ILCA6. Returning to Utah after that adventure, I was determined to win on the ice,” recalled Vesco.

“This team is special; most of us have been playing together for years, and our bond is mighty powerful,” said Vesco.

Gianna’s favorite player, Anze Kopitar of the LA Kings, embodies the qualities she aspires to: hard work, professionalism, and team support. These are values that have been reinforced by the coaching of brothers Bryce and Brandon Mannek, who have not only imparted strategic insights but also fostered a strong sense of team unity and emotional resilience among the players. Vesco added, “This year’s coaches have pushed me beyond my boundaries and encouraged me to look further into the possibility of college opportunities.”

Looking forward, Vesco shared, “This journey continues as some of us have been selected to attend the Rocky Mountain District Player Development Camp next month; we will continue to blaze a path for Utah Lady Grizz Hockey.” Gianna is eyeing a future in college hockey and possibly beyond. “She’s planning to play as long as she can,” Monestere shares. With new top-tier coaches joining the Lady Grizzlies following their successful season, prospects are looking brighter than ever. Monestere also shared her excitement about the NHL team coming to Salt Lake City, hoping it will support the development of youth hockey across the state and, in turn, result in some of Utah’s youth earning a spot in the 2034 Olympics.

Photos below are of the Utah Lady Grizzlies on ice at Nationals April 3-7, 2024, courtesy of Bruce Rowley.

Tryouts for the 2024/25 Utah Lady Grizzlies begin this week. For more information and to register, go to https://www.utahladygrizzlies.org/.

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