The Future of the First Girl’s Ice Hockey Team in Southern Maryland

Leonardtown, MD - Ice hockey has seen consistent growth in Southern Maryland over the past few years and this past season marked a landmark for the sport locally. St. Mary’s Ryken High School had enough interest generated for the sport amongst students, that they managed to successfully support an all-female roster of 23 players.

Although the team found themselves faced with a number of struggles throughout their inaugural season, the team managed to grow from small victories every time their skates touched the ice. For a team that was comprised of a majority of brand new players, a lack of ice time and a lack of personalized and designated player attention were the major hurdles that the team fell constant victim to. However, Head Coach Chris Palombi dubbed the overall season as “a huge success,” despite the team’s inability to record a win through brief season which consisted of only five games.

“The team learned and grew together, even surpassing expectations,” Palombi said.  “Seeing their skills develop since day one, and their drive to learn and understand the nuances of the game was unmatched to what I’ve experienced before as a coach”

However, the team has an omnipresent theme of being both a student and a teacher when out on the ice, and that becomes even more present when you talk to some of the more experienced players on the team. Sophomore Captain Robyn Strauss, who recorded a majority of the team’s goals this season, made it clear that this team was unlike any team she had played on prior in that she learned new things through the process of helping others.

“I think the difference with this team is this team was really focused on growing both as a person and a player…” Strauss explained. “I felt it was partly my responsibility to use my experience to help the newer players learn the game. But I wouldn’t say I felt weighed down just because I was experienced. I was beyond happy I was able to share something I enjoy so much with other people… This season we learned not only about how to improve in our hockey skills, but how to be a leader, how to be a good teammate, and how to use what we learn in sports in life.”

While Strauss is a rising Junior at St. Mary’s Ryken, she says that she has aspirations of going to college where she “definitely want[s] to keep playing.”

Though the team’s season varied with ups and downs, every player can undoubtedly rattle off positive memories from their experiences over the year. While a few players listed the team’s historic first game as an exuberant memory, there were still an abundance of personalized stories reminisced by players at the end of the season. Senior Abby Halterman, who is planning to study Marine Biology and Environmental Science and play club ice hockey at the University of New England next year, had a few specific memories come to mind.

“The first practice we ever had… Half the girls didn’t get on the ice because they had never skated before and the other half on the ice were trying not to fall. I didn’t ever think we would be ready to play, but the determination of everyone to improve was definitely seen at practice and even at our first game,” Halterman stated.

“Another memory [was] playing at the Capital One Arena. The team had a day trip to watch the Capitals’ practice, play at the arena, and then watch the Caps game later than evening. Being out on the ice where the pros played was surreal. We definitely played our hardest that night.”

While it is unclear as to what developments will change the future dynamics of this team, Coach Palombi has long-term visions of transforming the program into a “producer of future collegiate ice hockey athletes.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing how much more these girls will grow next year,” Palombi said. “2018-19 season was building the team and establishing a great environment for the girls to develop the love for playing the game. Check! Now it’s time to build off that and go to work in furthering their skill and flow of the game.”

As an onlooker, it is evident that the team’s statistics on paper cannot truly encapsulate what made this team’s season unlike any other hockey team that this writer has seen. The work ethic, determination to learn, and immense positivity that radiates through the team makes it hard to compare them to any other team.  While this team will look to fight and record it’s first victories next year, hopefully this is just the beginning of the sport’s expansion through Southern Maryland.

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