Women’s hockey players place fourth in ‘Universiade’

Courtesy Photo / Cory Whitaker
USA team in Turkey

Courtesy Photo / Cory Whitaker USA team in Turkey

Greg Monahan

When three Grand Valley State University women’s hockey players and their coach left the United States to compete in the World University Games in Erzurum, Turkey, they admittedly didn’t know exactly what to expect.

But as soon as the team arrived for the Opening Ceremonies, it was clear they were in for an experience of a lifetime.

“We got there and we had the opening ceremonies, and it was literally like the Olympics,” said Ashley Rumsey, who captained Team USA for its two-week stint in Turkey. “We walked into this huge stadium, full of people, with the flag and the rest of the team. We’re all dressed in the same gear and when we got in, the crowd just erupted. It was unreal.”

Rumsey, along with teammates Shelby Kucharski, Chelsea Minnie and 19 athletes from other American universities, represented the first women’s hockey team to compete in the World University Games from the United States. GVSU head coach Cory Whitaker was also an assistant coach on Team USA.

The 11-sport event, called ‘Universiade’ in Europe – a combination of ‘University’ and ‘Olympiad’ – hosted thousands of athletes from 57 different countries.

“It was an amazing time,” Whitaker said. “I don’t think you can really put it into words as to what kind of experience it was. It was just phenomenal in every sense of the word.”

The team had a chance to bring home a bronze medal in its final game, but lost 3-1 to Team Slovakia despite outshooting the Slovaks 28-21.

USA finished 2-5 in the tournament, but considering the competition, Whitaker said he was not upset with his team’s performance. Team Canada and Team Slovakia used the equivalent to Division I athletes from its home country, and Team Finland skated a handful of women who earned bronze medals in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

But USA Hockey rules require America to send non-scholarship athletes to the Games.

“Apples to apples, I am extremely happy and impressed with the way our team performed,” Whitaker said. “Especially when you consider teams like Finland and Slovakia essentially brought their national team. That’s who they’ve been playing with, who they’ve been practicing with, and those teams have played together for years.”

Rumsey said she was impressed by the caliber of play and athletic talent from each country her team competed against.

“There were girls way taller than me, and I’m tall for a women’s player,” said Rumsey, who stands 5 feet 8 inches tall and finished with the second-most points on Team USA with six. “There was a goalie, in butterfly position, and her head was taller than the crossbar, actually her shoulders came to the crossbar. Try to find a hole in that.”

She said while she was disappointed by the loss, the experience provided an “unbelievable” atmosphere and made the hefty price tag and missed class time worth it.

For Kucharski, she said she was happy just to get the chance to compete, especially since she was a member of the first-ever women’s team at the Universiade.

“I never expected or thought I would have the chance to play for my country through the ACHA,” she said. “I am so grateful for the opportunity. The ACHA is a great example of how far women’s hockey has come and the expectations for the talent in the league in the future are high. I can’t wait to have the chance to tryout and hopefully compete again in two years in Slovenia.”

After the games concluded, the closing ceremonies brought the same allure as the beginning of the Games, albeit in a different way.

“The closing ceremony was the complete opposite (from the opening ceremony),” Rumsey said. “We were walking around, everybody from all the countries was trading jackets, t-shirt, hats and gloves. I have a Russian warm-up jacket, a Polish scarf, a Spain jacket. It was crazy. You don’t know how to speak the language so we all just pointed at things and traded them in the middle of the stadium, it was just amazing.”

[email protected]