RIT women’s hockey coach Scott McDonald is leading his team to a dream season; they are currently the top-ranked women’s hockey team in the nation in Division III. University News’ John Follaco interviewed the coach about their rise to the top, and what it takes to keep them there.
Question: So how does it feel to be the coach of the No. 1 team in the nation?
Answer: It has been exciting. It has perked up some people on campus and helped out the attendance at some home games, for sure. The girls are excited. They’ve been working hard for this and it’s nice that they’ve been recognized for their efforts. Now we just want to be No. 1 at the end of the year—not just during the middle of the year.
Q: Your program is expected to turn Division I when the NCAA lifts the moratorium that is currently preventing any new programs from doing so. How much of your success can be attributed to gearing up for the next level?
A: We don’t use that as a recruiting tool. You can’t. You never know what the NCAA will throw at you. When we bring recruits in, we can show them the guys’ game and the excitement that comes with some of the experiences that they’ll have here. That definitely helps. But you can’t recruit that way. We know the timeline, we know when the moratorium lifts (sometime this summer), we know the school is interested in it, but that’s as far as we go.
Q: Let’s go on the ice. What have been the keys to your success this year?
A: I think our depth, for sure—depth and team chemistry. If your team is not getting along, you can certainly tell on the ice. We had a disappointing playoff last year that I think is still stinging some of the older players and they remember how that felt. They’re not going to let anybody or anything get in their way this year.
Q: How have you managed to keep your team focused?
A: It’s just having a sense of humility. As soon as your head gets a little too big or you get a little overconfident, that bubble bursts. In college sports everyone looks to knock off No. 1—especially a No. 1 team that hasn’t lost yet. The old cliché is one game at a time, and that’s really what we’ve been thinking about.
Q: What are some of the remaining goals you’ve set for the team?
A: The only goal that we’re allowed to talk about is a regular season title. I think in the past couple years we’ve gotten too far ahead of ourselves. You forget about those first couple steps and, before you know it, the season is over. I think that’s been our mistake the past couple years.
Q: What can fans expect to experience if they came to Ritter for a women’s game?
A: It’s exciting. We have a talented team that can move the puck, that can skate, that can shoot…they’re just not as big as the guys. It’s an exciting brand of hockey. The only difference is that they have ponytails coming out of the back of their helmets.
Q: What kind of relationship does your program have with the men’s program?
A: They have a great relationship. A lot of the players come from the same area, so a lot of them know each other or know of each other before they get here. They have one big thing in common, which is hockey. And I think we have a few different couples on the two teams. So when the teams are in town together, the guys are at our games and we’re certainly at their games.
Q: A campaign is under way to build a new ice arena on campus. What will such a facility mean to your program?
A: I think the sky is the limit. You put a world-class arena on this campus, with the atmosphere that this school can generate already…and then you throw in a new arena with new locker rooms and essentially a state-of-the-art arena, I don’t think there’s any ceiling on the program. It will help attract the best players possible.