Ever since she was a little girl, Lowry's Mayson Toft dreamed of hoisting a trophy over her head at the University of Wisconsin. As the clock hit zeroes for the Wisconsin women's hockey team to clinch the program's sixth national championship, her dreams came true.
"It's just crazy," Toft said. "It's so surreal. It's something I've never felt before. To share that with all of my teammates is indescribable."
On March 20, the Badgers were headed to overtime tied 1-1 with Northeastern for the collegiate women's hockey's top prize. Just under four minutes into the extra session, Daryl Watts scored the game-winning goal for Wisconsin to win the program's sixth title over the last 17 seasons.
The Badgers' sustained success has made them one of the more revered programs in women's college hockey. Toft enjoys the chance to play with some of the best players in the country every day.
"Our program is definitely really special," Toft said. "We are super close-knit on and off the ice. There's obviously a lot of talent here, but we also work really hard in practice. It takes everybody showing up every day giving 110%. That's what winning comes down to. We are all willing to get better every day, and it shows on the ice."
Toft, a former defenseman for the Alexandria girls high school team, played in six games during her freshman season. When she stepped on the ice for the first time at the collegiate level, she knew it was going to be a moment she'd never forget.
"I remember having to get dressed in the hallway because of Covid," Toft said. "Then I got on the ice and said to myself, 'Am I really here?' It was really cool to finally be playing for my dream school."
The COVID-19 pandemic threw the Badgers a lot of questions before and during the season. Toft and her teammates found it best to roll with the punches in order to pursue their championship goals.
"It was obviously nerve-racking to go through this as a freshman," Toft said. "With Covid, we didn't know what to expect with the tournament or what the rules would be. But the team was there for one another, and it was just unreal."
Programs like the Wisconsin women's hockey team go into most seasons as one of the top-ranked programs in the country with national title aspirations. The pandemic brought uncertainty to Toft's first season with the team, making it all the more special to take home the trophy.
"We didn't even know if we were going to have a season," Toft said. "Once we got our schedules and stuff we knew had a shot at the NCAA tournament. All of the girls were pretty jacked up and ready to go. We knew what we were capable of, and we just had to show up. We definitely showed up."
Following her senior year at Alexandria, Toft was prepared to take the ice for Wisconsin-River Falls at the Division III level. The Badgers sent her a late offer to go to Madison instead. One year later, she's happy she changed course.
"I'm super happy I took this opportunity," Toft said. "It's lived up to its name."
A national championship ring doesn't change Toft's goals for herself in college. She wants to continue getting better at the game she loves while contributing any way she can to one of the best teams in the nation.
"I want to continue to show up to practice and challenge myself with these girls," Toft said. "It's fun to be challenged and see progress in yourself as you keep going. That's what's so exciting for me right now."