The skill set in club sports will never be looked down upon again.
Molly O’Neil, a transfer student from Stevenson University in Baltimore, Maryland, has been one of 22 players named to the 2015 U.S. Women’s National University team. O’Neill is the first-ever athlete to compete on the national level comes from the CSU women’s ice hockey team.
“I am absolutely blown away, it’s incredible to have one of my players get this opportunity,” CSU head coach Chris Burch said. “She is probably the first player in school history that has been selected to Team USA, I don’t know of anyone that could have been.”
O’Neil will travel to Granada, Spain Feb. 4-14, where the team looks to overcome last year’s bronze-medal finish, which marked the first ever medal finish by the men’s or women’s team in the University Games. The team is comprised of girls from all across women’s collegiate hockey with a majority of them coming from Miami of Ohio, Massachusetts and Michigan.
Thursday at 9 a.m., O’Neil and the USA National team will take on China in the first of three pre-determined games. Depending on the results, O’Neil could compete in as many as six games wearing red, white and blue on her back.
Though the announcement came on Dec. 6, O’Neil could have never imagined a future like this when she put on skates for the first time 14 years ago. O’Neil put on the skates not by her own curiosity, but out of jealousy of her little brother, who had just been asked to play hockey by Colorado Selects club coach Bob Taggart.
“I was kind of jealous of him,” O’Neil said. “After that I started skating at the age of seven or eight, I played with the boys hockey at Front Range before it folded.”
O’Neil was not alone in the beginning of her hockey career. Her mom and dad were there to support her every step of the way.
“My dad absolutely loves hockey, he started skating as soon as I learned how to skate,” O’Neil said. “He is more of like the mathematical type where he breaks it down to a science. We would have physics time and would go over all these different tricks … and my mom has also been a big influence on me to play sports.”
From that moment on, O’Neil took to the ice and began practicing speed, ability, hand movement and everything she would need to be the best. At the age of 12, when the boys started hitting, O’Neil went to Colorado Selects to play women’s hockey. After just two short years, O’Neil decided to make a change and move to Baltimore to play at Stevenson University.
“It was actually really fun playing Division III hockey, it was really competitive. But we were not very good because it was the first year of the program,” O’Neil said.
But after two short seasons at Stevenson, O’Neil realized the East Coast was not for her. O’Neill had a couple friends who also went off to play Division III hockey and then came back to play at CSU. O’Neil mentioned that they were the ones who told her about Coach Burch and what a great program it was forming to be.
After a few short weeks with O’Neil in the lineup, Burch recommended her and three other players to Kristen Wright, the USA National Team coach and CU-Boulder head coach. Hanna, Avery, McKenzie and O’Neil all competed for a spot on the team during a showcase.
“The coach asked a handful of girls from each team to tryout,” O’Neill said. “There was a panel of coaches sitting up top watching and some on the ice. It was a high-speed tryout with several drill exercises and and scrimmage at the end.”
Over the years, O’Neil has taken her hockey career one step at a time, from club, to juniors, then on to Divison III and now Team USA. O’Neil’s decision to head back to the Rockies might be her ticket to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Collegian Sports Reporter Haleigh Hamblin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @haleighhamblin.
Sun., Feb. 1 Spain (Pre-Tournament) W, 6-0 Mulhacen Pavilion
Thu., Feb. 5 China 5 p.m./11 a.m. Mulhacen Pavilion
Sat., Feb. 7 Japan 5 p.m./11 a.m. Mulhacen Pavilion
Mon., Feb. 9 Spain 8:30 p.m./2:30 p.m. Mulhacen Pavilion
Wed., Feb. 11 Semifinal TBD Mulhacen Pavilion
Thu., Feb. 12 Bronze-Medal Game 5 p.m./11 a.m. Granada Sports Palace
Gold-Medal Game 8:30 p.m./2:30 p.m. Granada Sports Palace
*All Times are based on the East Coast Stream