Despite COVID-19 and many hockey teams around the world having pandemic-related issues, Virginia Tech had the opportunity to form their first ever women’s hockey team.
“We had a girl that is coming here next year and they wanted to know if we had a women’s hockey program,” said Samantha Gray, vice president of Virginia Tech’s women’s hockey club. “We looked around campus, and when we got a good number of girls interested, we formed the club.”
But there were many challenges that the newly-formed team had to face before taking on opponents from the ACCHL. One challenge was teaching some of the girls how to play hockey. “Around six of the girls have never played hockey in their life before,” said president Lily Espino. “We had a huge difference in skill level at the beginning, so it was a different experience for the players who had played hockey for so long.”
One of the girls that hasn’t played hockey before was Gray. Before playing hockey, she had competed in rowing and continues to do so. However, even with the differences in skill level and playtime, the girls were able to make the bond of the team better with it.
“Some of the more experienced players were able to teach the newer players at practice,” said Espino. “Instead of having one coach, we had five or six players filling in to help out.”
The players also practiced with a hockey league in Roanoke, VA, where the rink they practice at is located. During the league season, the girls would train and understand the game before their inaugural season started in the winter semester.
The team would also travel 50 minutes from Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech University is located. Roanoke also has the closest professional minor league team, Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, in the Southern Professional Hockey League. “For some practices, we would have to wake up at 4 a.m. just to attend,” Espino said. “Some of the equipment had to be donated and the men’s club team at Virginia Tech helped out.
However, the hardships came with success and fulfillment closer to when the season began. Because of COVID-19, some teams couldn’t play in the ACCHL, but they were against a tough opponent, North Carolina State. The teams had faced off against each other twice before their final matchup and it didn’t go so well. They lost both games in complete blowouts to NC State, losing 11-0 the first game and 13-1 in the next.
However, the last and most important game played in Winston-Salem, NC., the women’s team won the contest 9-7 and claimed the victory in a winner-takes-all showdown. The team also had off ice achievements that helped out their community. “We got to work with the Roanoke Valley community and work with girls grade one to four and help develop the game,” Espino said.
Hockey is underdeveloped in that region of Virginia and it’s even more undeveloped for girls hockey. Some hockey organizations have to share players between states because of the lack of structure and interest from younger players. However, with the popularity of club sports and major minor league teams sprouting across the state, there are signs that the sport may become bigger in the future.
But with all that has happened, the team is looking forward to next season. “Everyone is coming back next year and building on what we started this year,” Gray said. They plan on becoming an official sports club at the university in a few years, while getting enough funding to fully support themselves.
“We made great relationships with each other that wouldn’t have happened unless we tried something new, and in the end, that is the best part,” Gray said. The team has set up a GoFundMe to help cover their expenses.