Women’s hockey will join ranks of Division I teams

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A. Sue Weisler

Members of the RIT women’s hockey team celebrate March 20 at a press conference announcing their National Championship victory and move to Division I.

There aren’t many athletic teams that have experienced a 72-hour stretch like RIT’s women’s hockey squad did last month. On March 17, the Tigers won the Division III National Championship. A few days later, the team announced its intention of applying for Division I status to join College Hockey America for the 2012-2013 season.

RIT plans to play a Division I and full-league schedule beginning next season competing against College Hockey America teams Syracuse University, Mercyhurst College and Robert Morris University. Penn State and Lindenwood University are also poised to join the league next year. RIT will be eligible for College Hockey America’s post-season play but will not participate in NCAA post-season play until the 2014-2015 season.

“This is a big step up in competition,” says Head Coach Scott McDonald, who in six seasons behind the bench has a 135-22-10 record. His .838 winning percentage is the best all-time at the Division III level. “Every game will be a challenge, but we are looking forward to developing new rivalries and seeing what we are capable of at the highest level.”

The Tigers will go from playing relative unknowns to playing against Ivy League schools such as Brown, Yale and Princeton universities, or national powers such as Syracuse, Penn State, Ohio State and North Dakota State.

According to Tim Insko, RIT’s strength and conditioning coach, the women’s training regimen will greatly increase, with a focus on power, core strength and speed.

“This team is self-motivated to get faster and stronger for Division I,” says forward Ariane Yokoyama, a third-year diagnostic medical sonography major from Van Nuys, Calif. “It’s fun knowing you will be playing at the highest level against really skilled teams and players.”

The women will face a few other challenges competing at the Divison I level. Hockey season starts nearly a month earlier—in late September—and the Tigers are allowed to play 34 regular season games, as opposed to 25 games at the Division III level. Additionally, RIT does not award athletic scholarships, unlike most of its competitors.

“The longer schedule makes for greater challenges, both physically and mentally, and the additional road trips will account for more time away from classes,” McDonald says. “The women have to find time to make up their missed school work and will have to get used to the day-by-day duties of a Division I student-athlete. Although we will be able to recruit players with a higher skill set, it’s important that they still fit our ‘team-first’ philosophy and be successful students.”

As a result of the higher level of competition, the women have a greater chance of playing professionally after college. There are a handful of pro leagues overseas, as well as the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, where several former top collegians play, including former RIT standout Sarah Dagg, the 2011 Laura Hurd Division III National Player of the Year.

“It’s every girl’s dream to play Division I,” says Melissa Bromley, a second-year journalism major from Aurora, Ontario. “With such good academics at RIT, it’s a great opportunity to play at the highest level.”