Six exhausted girls skate down the rink, hitting the puck to one another, trying to end a gruelingly-long hockey game. They’ve just started the ninth overtime of the Central District Championship game. They have been playing for nearly three hours, and the game is to the point that instead of the normal five-on-five setup, it is down to just 3-on-3. Most of the team is too exhausted to keep playing. The game has been going on for so long that they have to have snacks brought over to them to keep their energy levels up. The Lady Blues are tired and at this point, they just want to put an end to the game.
With just 10 seconds left on the clock for this round of overtime, team captain Jessica Dunne pushes the puck to junior Jessica Young, the center forward, and Young takes it up the rink. She shoots it to the goal, thinking please go in. I don’t think I can skate anymore. The puck shoots into the net, just below the goalie’s glove. Score! Her goal clinches the game and the championship.
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Jessica started ice skating at the age of three, following her father, Jeff’s footsteps. He grew up in Chicago playing hockey, and because he loved it so much, he enrolled Jessica and her older brother, Jeremy, in hockey when they were young. At first, Jeff and Julie, Jessica’s mother, thought that Jessica would want to do figure skating instead of hockey; but Jessica was more of a tomboy.
“Jessica didn’t want anything to do with [figure skating]” Julie said. “She wanted to play hockey like her brother.”
Jeremy was a role model for Jessica in hockey. He practiced on the team with her and inspired her try to improve, just by being an older, more experienced player.[media-credit id=105 align=”alignleft” width=”291″][/media-credit]“I looked up to him as a hockey player… I always wanted to be as good as him, or better,” Jessica said.
Jessica’s first team, the Kansas City Saints, was an all-boys team she was on with her brother. Jessica’s dad coaches the team, which makes it that much more personal for her. She played on that team from when she was six until she was eleven. At that point, the boys started checking, or physically hurting other players. Jessica decided that it was too rough for her to keep playing with them, so she joined the Lady Blues, a traveling girls team from St. Louis.
Now, Jessica practices with the Saints but plays games and tournaments for the Lady Blues. The few practices she has with the Lady Blues are much more fun and social for her. She feels more comfortable since she and her teammates talk, and the general mood is less intense. Because girls’ hockey is not very common in this area, the team has to find games in places like Michigan, Ohio, the East Coast and Canada. Typically, Jessica has to miss school on Fridays when she has a weekend tournament, so she gets a lot of makeup school work. Since she’s been doing this since middle school, she’s used to it. She tries to get all her homework done before she leaves.
Julie views all this traveling as an opportunity for her daughter to meet people and make friends from all over the country. Jessica and her team have gotten close because of the travel; although they only see each other once or twice per month, they bond a lot on the road.
“I think as a team we drive our coach crazy because we talk constantly to catch up on all the time we are apart,” Jessica’s linemate Alexis Toporowski said.
When they are traveling, the Lady Blues often do some sort of team bonding activity, like rock-climbing or playing paintball. Last season, they had a tournament at Miami of Ohio, so they took a tour of the school together while they were there.
According to Jessica, the Lady Blues team is a lot more fun, and the other players are more friendly towards her than the Saints are. It’s not just about what happens on the ice for them; they like to have fun together.
“Our teammates really like it when Jess and I are the team DJs because we sing and dance in the locker room until the last second!” Toporowski said.[media-credit id=105 align=”alignright” width=”221″][/media-credit]According to Toporowski, the Lady Blues are like sisters. Even if they’re upset with one another, they always have each others’ backs when they’re playing. She thinks that they would all be great friends if they went to the same school, but that it’s nice to have friends that don’t, this way they can all get away from any drama going on with their friends from school.
“It’s the bond we have off the ice that helps us win,” Toporowski said.
Although the team didn’t win very often when Jessica joined six years ago, the Lady Blues have been very successful this past season, especially being the Central District champions. Last season, Jessica was the highest-scoring player per game on her team, and she scored the most game-winning goals (six). Because of the team’s success, there have been several newspaper articles written about it.
“I think it’s really cool when we get recognition for playing, but it doesn’t really have much of an effect on me [confidence-wise],” Jessica said.
She went through a lot to achieve this success. Practicing with the boys has been essential to her success, but it hasn’t been easy, as most of them seem to play rough and check her on purpose.
“Whenever I play in games with the boys, I always have to keep my head up because they kind of come after me, because they think it’s funny or something,” Jessica said. “And sometimes they make comments. It’s not such a big deal anymore.”
Because of the roughness of the sport, she has had two concussions recently, and they made her realize how important it was to be careful not to get another. If she did, she wouldn’t be able to play anymore. She had to think about whether or not she really wanted to risk getting another one to keep playing hockey.
“It hit me that just one more time [getting a concussion], and I could be done,” Jessica said.
Her dad really wanted her to continue, but her mom urged her to think about whether or not it was worth it to keep playing. Jessica decided that she had come too far to quit, so she continued playing. Since then, Jessica has become more careful, especially when she plays with the boys, by dodging checks and trying to stay out of the boys’ way.
Jessica also golfs and plays soccer. She spends about the same amount of time practicing for hockey and soccer, and a little less for golf. Although she is equally dedicated to the three sports, her focus for the future is mainly on hockey. Jessica hopes to play hockey at a Division I college, or both hockey and soccer at a Division III school. But after four years of college, she will probably end her hockey career.
“[Hockey will benefit my future] because it opens up doors to colleges I wouldn’t normally think of going to, especially the Ivy Leagues,” Jessica said. “It’s a lot harder to get into those schools if you don’t play a sport… You’re kind of special if you want to play a sport at a school like that.”