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Athletes often fly solo with club sports

Kaylie McNeill, 12th, celebrates after scoring a goal on the Sioux Fall Lady Flyers during the 2022-2023 senior night at Liberty First Credit Union arena, formerly known as Ralston arena. (courtesy photo: Claire Steiner).

Women’s ice hockey is not an NSAA sanctioned sport, so it is not offered by schools in Nebraska. Personally, I love to play ice hockey and I play on two teams. 

When a sport is offered by the school, it makes a lot of things much more convenient. Activities Director Jeremy Van Ackeren listed some of those benefits as: “the use of school facilities, the advertisement in our building, the promotion of your sport.”

“It’s hard when you’re not part of our school to get promoted and to get a lot of interest,” Van Ackeren acknowledged. “That’s a big deal.”

McNeill, 12th, poses with two teammates after going undefeated and winning a tournament in Brookings, South Dakota. Notice how the stands are empty. This is a familiar sight for them. (courtesy photo: Kaylie McNeill).

I have personally experienced those differences when running on our school’s varsity track team. We had access to the track, weight room and trainers all season. 

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When comparing the two experiences, hockey, as a full-contact sport, is a lot harder on my body, and it has caused me many more injuries. 

The only reason I have had access to proper icing and taping has been because I am a school athlete within track. Otherwise, I’d be completely on my own. 

The options for my sport are slim, as I am a female ice hockey player in Papillion, Nebraska. I feel like I dug my own grave when getting myself involved with it. 

In the area, Omaha Hockey Club offers girls hockey at the 10u, 12u, 14u A, 14u B, 16u, and partially at the 19u level. All of these teams are at the Tier II AA level, which means that is a competitive level of hockey, but less competitive than Tier 1 AAA, as well as less demanding for travel and time. 

I have played 19u in the area for three years, but this year, it looks a lot different. Last season, we hit a wall – figuratively. Only five girls out of our team of about 18 returned, and none of those girls were the goalie. All of our coaches left as well. 

This happened due to a lot of different circumstances, such as girls graduating, girls leaving to go play at the Tier 1 AAA level, or girls simply burning out.    

Kaylie McNeill, 12th, celebrating after scoring a goal on the Northshore Lady Warhawks, The Omaha Lady Jr. Lancers rival. (courtesy photo: Claire Steiner).

I was scrambling for months and reaching out to coaches from all over the United States to see if I could find somewhere else to play. 

I had an offer to play on a Tier 1 AAA team named the Minnesota Ice Cougars based out of Minneapolis. Unfortunately, it was revoked right before the season started because I was not willing to drop everything in Omaha and move to Minnesota. 

My frustration and stress with having no option at home almost overpowered my love for the sport. 

The amount of time traveling hockey players have to put into the sport leads to a lot of burnout. In order to compete, we have to leave Nebraska. 

Each star marks a city where Omaha Lady Jr. Lancers traveled to compete last year. (Infographic: Kaylie McNeill)

The closest place we usually go is Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This year, we do not have a single home game on the schedule. 

We are away from home and missing school two to three weekends out every month during an approximately seven-month season. We miss about 20 days of school in a season, so it can be very demanding to keep up. 

We drive as many as 11 hours to play games. Many of my teammates and I have expressed that we fall out with close friends at home because we’re hardly around. 

For the 2023-24 season, our 19u team has combined with Kansas City Storm’s 19u AA team. We have five girls from Omaha on the team, and the rest of the girls – as well as the coaches – are from somewhere between Omaha and Kansas City. 

We all practice in our hometowns, so we hardly ever practice with the majority of our team. 

It’s not ideal, but it works. We just have to work that much harder, because we are playing teams that regularly practice together and have much more ice time. 

It can be frustrating to have to work so hard to do what you love when it seems like opportunities are handed to many athletes at school.

Kaylie McNeill, 12th, and track teammates being recognized at the 2023 fall pep rally. (Brooklyn Anson)

Circling back to my track season, the team gets a lot of recognition. 

Last season, we went undefeated and won state. The school posted every meet we won on some form of social media, and we were recognized in front of the school at a pep rally. 

It is depressing to have no opportunity for people to watch me play hockey. I have dreamed of having a home Senior Night where my friends and family could watch me do what I love on the ice. I did want a senior banner, flowers, and to be honored in front of the people I love.

It is sad to not have the opportunity to experience those sorts of things many athletes look forward to. 

It is those little things that make my hard work as an athlete feel appreciated. My accomplishments in hockey go unnoticed by my peers. 

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About the Contributors
Kaylie McNeill
Kaylie McNeill, Staff Reporter
Hi guys! My name is Kaylie and this is my second year on staff. I spend a lot of my time playing travel ice hockey. I also run track, mountain bike, and snowboard on the side. I love it all! I find interest in writing about mostly anything, especially things that I feel make a difference and affect the community. I'm so excited for you all to see what I alongside my staff members can create!
Brooklyn Anson
Brooklyn Anson, Photographer
I love photography. It is something I am passionate about even though I am just learning and improving. I am not afraid to get on the ground in order to get a good angle. The most important thing I learned during tryouts was learning to not give up on a shot. What I learned from this experience is that there is always another angle to try to get a new and better shot. Never give up.
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