Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy specializing in developing players for next level
The snow has been falling in Tahoe for quite some time, and while skiers and snowboarders are enjoying a spectacular season at the area’s countless winter resorts, the student-athletes at Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy have kept their focus squarely on achieving success on the ice and in the classroom.
Tahoe’s prep team found itself entering January in second place in the NAHL’s Prep League with a 6-2 record, and the varsity squad sat comfortably in third place in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League’s top division at 4-2-1-2.
Here is a half-dozen players who have made special impacts to the program:
A 15-year-old freshman defenseman on the varsity team, Lennex is settling in nicely in his first season on the campus of Tahoe Prep. He has previously played for the Valencia Flyers AA team in the northern Los Angeles suburbs, but was seeking something more for his hockey development.
“At the end of last year, I was looking for a team – I knew this was a newer school, but it looked like I could get a better experience and improve my skills,” Lennex said, adding that a bonus is the location. “I love it up in Tahoe. You notice the elevation and the cleaner air, and you just see all of this wildlife.”
Lennex, who started skating at the age of three, said he is working hard on improving his fundamentals like speed and becoming more of a scoring threat, and has aspirations to play junior hockey and use that as a springboard to a college program.
The formula seems to be working. Lennex said his father, who makes the drive to attend the majority of his son’s games, has told him he’s become a completely different player in his time with Tahoe Prep.
“He said he sees it in the way I move the puck and my confidence,” Lennex said, adding that the experience at Tahoe Prep has been first-class in all aspects. “We have great coaching. The dorms are amazing and I’m ready to be back with the team.”
One of a growing number of players from out of state at Tahoe Prep, Call has only been playing hockey four years, but picked the game up quickly. The native of Bountiful, Utah, is a 15-year-old sophomore defenseman for the school’s varsity team, and channeled his love for rollerblading into playing ice hockey.
Before making the decision to move to Tahoe, Call played for the Utah Golden Eagles in Salt Lake City. When he and his family started looking at prep schools, they visited Tahoe Prep’s stunning campus, met the coaches and were sold on it being the right opportunity.
“I think it was hard for my mom,” admitted Call, who has five siblings. “But I have found dorm life very fun because everyone is there for the same reason and everyone is your friend. It’s like having actual brothers.”
Call’s goal for the season is to score 30 points or more and having logged 32 penalty minutes in his team’s first 16 games, he’ll have some catching up to do.
“I don’t want to take any more penalties, and now I’ve gone five straight games without one,” Call said. “The play is a lot different from what I was used to. It is faster paced and more physical. Our coaches are fantastic, and Coach (Mike) Lewis has helped put us in a mindset that we can’t be undisciplined.”
One of the original student-athletes at Tahoe Prep, Sechrist has been enrolled at the school since it first opened its doors in the fall of 2016. A 16-year-old junior center on Tahoe Prep’s varsity team, he had skated for the Santa Rosa Flyers in his Bay Area hometown and moved on to the Vacaville Jets when he reached the Pee Wee level. After winning a CAHA state title with the Jets in 2015, he jumped at the chance to attend Tahoe Prep, which his parents, Mike and Kelley Sechrist, helped found.
Sechrist said he has seen a rapid transformation among his teammates at the academy.
“A lot of kids have gotten a lot better, and this is our best year yet,” Sechrist said. “Our coaches are great. They are not too harsh on us. They’re supportive. The dorms are fun and everyone on the team is nice.”
Sechrist is focused on improving his speed and is looking forward to traveling with the prep team for upcoming NAHL Prep games in Detroit. He has already played three games with the prep squad this year, contributing a goal and two assists. In 11 games with varsity this season, Sechrist has two goals and six assists. As for his future, Sechrist is focused on furthering his education and getting a chance to continue playing hockey.
“I’m hoping to be able to play at a college somewhere,” Sechrist said. “Juniors would be nice, but I feel college would be best.”
Having grown up playing for the Valencia Flyers near his hometown of Bakersfield, Dunnigan knew that he’d have to move on if he wanted to advance his hockey career. A 16-year-old junior who plays goalie for Tahoe’s prep team, he has been playing the sport since he was six years old and has lofty aspirations.
Dunnigan said at the end of last year he came to the realization that the time on the road associated with travel hockey became too much. He learned about Tahoe Prep during a summer camp.
“I knew I was good enough to play at the higher level, but I didn’t want to drive three hours just to practice,” he said. “I thought it would be cool to move away but still be not that far from home, and at Tahoe Prep I could play out of my comfort zone. My first game, I was extremely nervous. The speed and pace of the game was impressive, but after that first game I settled in. I’ve been getting a lot more shots and that’s good.”
That comfort level shows in Dunnigan’s .916 save percentage in the eight games he has played with the prep team this season. He’s hoping the improvement he is making will help him further his hockey career. Dunnigan said he is happy with the exposure he is getting playing for Tahoe and the help from the coaches to make it to the next level.
“My end goal is to be pro, but not everyone can make it, so right now I’m focused on making it to a Division I college,” he said.
A 17-year-old senior left-winger playing on the academy’s prep team, Chesworth is off to a strong start. In 16 games, he has tallied six goals and nine assists.
An Arizona native (Gilbert), he played for the DYHA Jr. Sun Devils before making the transition to Tahoe this season. Even though he sometimes misses the Arizona warmth, Chesworth said living away from home for the first time has been good.
“I haven’t really been homesick at all, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Chesworth. “All the guys are great. We’re like one big family.”
Chesworth’s mother, Renee, said letting her son leave home a year early to pursue his passion was hard, but she knew it was the right choice.
“Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy pitched the whole package, and they have delivered,” she said. “From the academic support to the hockey development, they truly care about these boys. Just seeing Austin’s skill level and his improvement, the finesse and the speed, it’s been so much fun to watch, and he’s happy. It’s quite the life experience. He’s getting to do what he loves every day, and that’s what we wish for our children – for them to get the chance to work at what they love.”
Austin Chesworth said not only is the level of play different but so is the team atmosphere.
“The game is faster and the skill level is higher, but everyone on my team is going 100 percent, and our coaches are the best I’ve ever had,” Chesworth said. “I also love working out with the trainers. That aspect has been great.”
Spending his first year with TPHA after moving from Arvada, Colo., and the Hyland Hills Jaguars AA team, Pierce is thriving. The 16-year-old sophomore left wing has been a significant contributor to the prep team.
The academic support, weight training, time on the ice, and personal development model offered at Tahoe Prep were all strong selling points for him.
“My biggest goal is to play Division I college hockey and keep moving up the ranks as high as I can go,” Pierce said. “That requires a strong grade-point average as well as hockey skills. I feel that now, with the support I’m getting, I can keep moving up the ranks.”
Beyond the improvement that can be measured on the ice and in the training center, the academy has also given Pierce some noticeable maturity lessons.
“The dorms are super nice and really comfortable, and the resident assistants are awesome,” he said. “Living away from home, it’s helped me a ton. I did things at home before, but now I realize that I need to take responsibility and do my job – pick up after myself, wash my clothes.”
Pierce said he is settling into this next level of hockey as well.
“The speed, the size, the passing and hitting were all up a level,” he explained. “It’s been a different environment. You know you have to perform. The Tahoe coaches all have something to bring, our practices are so skilled, and it’s about each player’s personal development. I can see the hard work paying off.”
— Greg Ball
(Feb. 12, 2019)