It’s a year of firsts at Long Island University, which recently began its Division I journey. The challenges that come with competing in the NCAA’s top level are well-known.
But to kick things off, LIU added an entirely new squad. The women’s hockey team, led by veteran coach Rob Morgan, scraped the ice for their opening weekend against the University of Connecticut. The Sharks are playing their matches in Syosset’s Iceworks, which is the practice facility for the New York Islanders.
“It’s always really special when you’re the founding coach of a first-ever program,” Morgan said at the Syosset arena, where the team also practices. “To be part of setting the vision and recruiting not just the right types of players and students, but people, that have the right characteristics to fill our locker room is special.”
The Sharks, though, have plenty of challenges ahead. The team was created from scratch.
Of the 23 players on the squad, 21 are college freshmen. Some of the young women are from America, while others traveled from Europe to have the opportunity to play Division I ice hockey.
Currently, there are 42 NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey teams across the nation, with LIU being the first new team to be added to this level since 2017. Five teams became Division I programs that year, but LIU is the lone wolf in 2019, meaning the challenge of adjusting to this standard of hockey is even greater.
Women’s hockey has grown exponentially in the United States since the NCAA began the program in 2001. At that time, only eight teams played the sport. But thanks to the increased interest in women’s hockey, LIU is embarking on history.
“It’s a big honor to be part of this whole journey,” Linn Thomsen, who’s from Denmark, said. “It’s nice to start building the culture. We have a lot of freshmen, so we need to get the culture going in the core of the team.”
The Sharks will play a 29-game regular season, as a member of the newly-recognized New England Women’s Hockey Alliance (NEWHA), which went from being an independent league to a Division I conference. Their division rivals include Franklin Pierce University, Post University, Saint Michael’s College, Saint Anselm College and Sacred Heart University.
Besides the games in Syosset, the Sharks will also play some games at East Meadow’s Northwell Health
During the recruiting process, Morgan knew exactly what he was looking for. He spent two years as the associate head coach of the Yale women’s ice hockey team prior to spending 2018 in China, helping lead the way for the development of women’s hockey.
“I had a pretty good idea of who was out there and who was still available, because when you’re recruiting as an assistant or associate coach, you have a really good understanding of who’s available throughout North America and Europe,” Morgan said. “It was a matter of reaching out to them and talking to them about the vision.”
The folks at LIU believe this program can become a national contender. They are, after all, on Long Island, which means they can use their location to convince prospective student-athletes to join the team.
However, that doesn’t make this first year any easier. The only upperclassman is junior Morgan Schauer, a transfer from Robert Morris University.
“It’s getting them to understand and appreciate how important the training minute is,” coach Morgan said. “They have no one to say, ‘This is our last year as seniors. We need you to be present and bring your very best each time we’re out there.’”
For Lauren Spino, a freshman from Colorado, the experience of playing Division I hockey thus far has been all about adapting to the level of competition.
“It’s always been a goal of mine,” Spino said of playing women’s hockey. “The fun of it is adjusting and turning the overwhelming feeling into excitement.”
Overall, these young women are enjoying the experience. They are becoming a family, which is exactly what a college sports team needs in order to be successful.
If the team can reach their full potential, Morgan believes they can start earning plenty of wins. Though the two-game series against UConn didn’t go well, being outscored 10-1, the mistakes they made on the ice are fixable.
“They really feel good about themselves,” he said. “We have to play a near-perfect game to keep up with the teams that are established, but we’re there. We have to get better each day.”