It has been a long season for the six Kamloops girls on the Thompson-Okanagan Rockets midget AAA hockey team, but it was all worth it for the feeling they shared Sunday.
The Kelowna-based Rockets - featuring goaltender Tara Bouvette, forwards Nicole Case, Bre Frasca, Kelsey Freudenberger and Emily Gervais, and defenceman Cora Sutton - beat the Kootenay Wildcats in three games in the best-of-three provincial final Sunday in Rutland.
The Wildcats won the opener, 3-1, before the Rockets came back with a pair of 3-2 victories.
The Kamloopsians make up a third of the Rockets' 18-girl roster, and also carry their fair share of the load during the games.
But it's a lot of work, driving to and from Kelowna for practices twice a week, not including weekend games.
"It's hard to commute, especially with school and playing other sports," said Frasca, a 17-year-old centre and the Rockets' captain. "But it's been worth it - we got the reward of winning (provincials) and we've made 20 new friends."
The provincial championship means the Rockets will get to compete in the best-of-three Pacific Midget Regional final against the host Edmonton Thunder. Game 1 is Friday.
Edmonton is the same team that swept the Rockets in last year's regional championship and earned a berth in the ESSO Cup, the national midget female championship. This year's ESSO Cup is scheduled for April 17-23 in St. Albert, Alta.
The four returning Kamloopsians - Bouvette, Frasca, Freudenberger and Sutton - haven't forgotten.
"We know what to expect," said Freudenberger, an 18-year-old assistant captain. "We've played a lot of Alberta teams this season, and we didn't do that last year - that should help us."
B.C. doesn't exactly have a strong history in midget girls hockey.
"It would be nice to beat them and show them that B.C. can do something," Frasca said. "B.C.'s not very strong . . . this league's been up (since 2007-08) and we've never won westerns yet."
The Kamloops girls were front-and-centre during the weekend series. Gervais, 15, scored the Rockets' lone goal in Friday's 3-1 loss.
Freudenberger had a goal - the winner, actually - and two assists in Saturday's 3-2 victory, while Frasca singled and Gervais scored the series-winning goal in Sunday's victory. Sutton, 17, had an assist in that game, and Bouvette, 16, started the last two games, winning both.
The series was a lot closer than anyone could have predicted, especially considering the Rockets won five of the six regular-season meetings, outscoring the Rockets 38-16 in the process.
"They definitely gave us a run for our money," said Freudenberger. "In league play, it wasn't very close.
"We were a bit humbled after losing the first game."
Frasca tied for the league's regular-season scoring title with Salmon Arm's Janessa Jenkins, who also plays for the Rockets, ending with 43 points, 30 of them assists. Freudenberger was fifth, with 28 points, including 18 goals, while Gervais had 11 points, three of them goals, Sutton had two goals and six assists and Case, 15, had one goal and three assists.
All of the girls - and their parents - put in a lot of work to make the season a success, but the tough schedule may have toughened everyone up.
"It becomes a routine - it doesn't feel like a two-hour drive after doing it for two years," Freudenberger said. "It gets a little crazy, with other things in life, like school, but it's been fun."