WOMEN’S HOCKEY: ‘We have all moved forward’ — Bulldogs focused on ’21-’22 season
The Yale women’s hockey team has only had a few players on campus each semester, but the Bulldogs, who are focused on preserving momentum from their program-record 17-win season in 2019-20, have come to terms with the year’s challenges and the season’s cancellation.
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While the Ivy League’s decision to cancel the winter sports season has left the women’s hockey team separated for the majority of the academic year, the Bulldogs have been finding ways to stay active and get innovative with training.
The season’s cancellation, combined with restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, has resulted in a large number of women’s hockey team players spending most of their time away from campus, with several of them taking leaves of absence. Only a few players were present in New Haven during the fall, according to women’s hockey head coach Mark Bolding, and a similar situation has played out this spring. Bolding said three players are active and on campus this spring, while at least three others are residing in the New Haven area on leaves of absence.
Bolding told the News that the team has ultimately come to terms with the situation.
“Now that we are into February and what would be the normal end of the season, it has settled in and we have all moved forward with the fact that there was no hockey season for our group,” Bolding wrote in an email to the News last week. “We realize that every other team is in the same situation here, but we have to give our players and every other student-athlete a lot of credit for handling the tough circumstance that is our reality.”
Despite a range of setbacks due to COVID-19 restrictions and two phasing regressions that occurred in the fall, the team has been able to train in small groups in order to stay in shape and refine their skills during Phases I and II last semester and during Yale’s recent upgrade to Phase I this spring. Bolding described these drill sessions as the best opportunity to provide members of the team with individual attention. He noted that they also serve as a great outlet to release stress and tension while allowing the players to play a game they love.
Bolding added that those away from campus have also been finding their own ways to stay occupied, whether that be through internships, by practicing their stickhandling at home or watching the NHL games that restarted back in January. He mentioned that access to training facilities over the past 10 months has been a challenge for some players because the pandemic has kept some ice rinks and weight rooms closed.
MeiLan Haberl ’24, from Colorado Springs, is one of the many Bulldogs who has had to get creative in terms of training. Haberl told the News that she has been playing a lot of roller hockey with her brother in the street when practicing on the ice is not possible.
While acknowledging the difficulties of not being able to meet and train with all of her teammates in person, Haberl also expressed her gratitude for the encouragement she continues to receive from older teammates and the coaching staff.
“We’ve had regular team Zooms and have been encouraged to get involved with activities and activism on campus,” said Haberl, who was on campus in the fall but not this spring. “Though being separated is hard, our coaching staff and upperclassmen have been really supportive.”
“Our team is incredibly diverse: internationally, ethnically, in our backgrounds, majors and extracurricular pursuits,” she added. “My experiences during this year are only a small piece of the full picture.”
The defender credited forward Maya Kerfoot ’22 and defender Lauren Moriyama ’21 for being especially helpful during her time on campus in the fall, noting that the two took the time to check up on her and “show her the ropes.”
Although her first year as a Bulldog has been anything but normal, Haberl said her hockey and academic journey was “already off the beaten path.” During a gap year between high school and college, she competed in the Elite Women’s Hockey League in Europe prior to matriculating in the fall of 2020.
“While it’s certainly been strange not to have the typical first-year athlete experience, and to have never met some of my teammates in person, I’ve had to adapt to unexpected adversity before,” Haberl explained. “Personally, I’m taking this as a chance to continue building up my individual discipline and skills.”
In addition to maintaining an optimistic attitude toward the current state of their hockey team, both Haberl and Bolding shared their excitement for future seasons.
Bolding reiterated the team’s commitment to staying focused on the positives and described his anticipation for next season.
“Our group is just so excited for the future,” Bolding said. “I don’t think they’re dwelling on the negatives.”
The two-time Division III national champion from Alberta and former coach at Norwich University also told the News that he hopes that the team can pick up and build on their momentum from one year ago, as well as return to campus to “enjoy their time [together], their learning and their Yale camaraderie.”
During last year’s 2019-20 season, Bolding’s first at Yale, the Bulldogs won 17 games, which was a program record.
Trisha Nguyen | firstname.lastname@example.org