The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina Women's Club Ice Hockey has successful inaugural season, finishes 2nd in new women's hockey division

<p>The University of South Carolina's Women's Club Ice Hockey team celebrates after its 2-1 victory against the U-19 South Carolina Lady Warriors on Oct. 1, 2023, in Irmo, South Carolina. The women's hockey team went on to play in the collegiate hockey playoffs.</p>
The University of South Carolina's Women's Club Ice Hockey team celebrates after its 2-1 victory against the U-19 South Carolina Lady Warriors on Oct. 1, 2023, in Irmo, South Carolina. The women's hockey team went on to play in the collegiate hockey playoffs.

The South Carolina Women’s Club Ice Hockey team ranked second in the newfound College Hockey South Women’s Division to round out its inaugural season.

The program faced numerous struggles with its first-ever campaign, but despite this, it was able to achieve many feats throughout the season.

The women's club hockey team was created in 2023 when fourth-year integrated information technology student Hana Donnelly and third-year fashion merchandising student Morgan Giard came together to create the first of its kind at South Carolina. They faced challenges at first, such as trying to spread the word that there was a women's hockey team at the university.

One way they tried to combat this was by posting on popular social media platforms such as Instagram to make students aware of the new team, Giard said. This tactic worked, and the team started to practice at Flight Adventure Park in Irmo, South Carolina, to prepare for its first game in club history against the U-19 South Carolina Lady Warriors on Oct. 1.

After beating the Lady Warriors 2-1 in the exhibition game, South Carolina was in need of a new head coach, as its former coach had left the team. The program turned to Chris Mehltretter, who already knew Donnelly and was working as a coach in the rink where the team practiced. He took over the head coaching duties at the end of October. 

I play roller hockey with one of the girls that are on the team, Hana. And she said that they lost their coach and they needed someone to come and fill in,” Mehltretter said. “I already am coaching multiple teams here at this rink, so I said I’m more than willing to do it.”  

South Carolina played all three of its regular season games against Georgia. Overall, the team outscored the Bulldogs 35-7 across the three matchups. 

Lack of sufficient funding was one major challenge the team faced throughout the season, forcing it to play only one opponent for the entire regular season. Half of the teams within the division are located in Florida, making Athens, Georgia, the closest place the team could travel to. Because this was the team's first season together, it received barely any funds from the university, which provides money based on a point system. The team did not qualify for any points, Donnelly said.     

Travel is a big, big issue for us. We don’t have the funds in our first year to get a bus and travel hundreds of miles to go and play one game,” Giard said. “We were kind of stuck with the in-between with Georgia, where it wasn’t that far, where we could go for the night or people could drive back the same day if they needed to. That was the biggest issue. We just couldn’t get to the other teams.” 

The Gamecocks wrapped up the regular season with a 3-0 record. As the season progressed, the team accumulated more practice time together, which helped build its chemistry, Donnelly said. Several of these practices took place as late as midnight. 

"Basically, the youth hockey teams get priority and then everyone else is after them. So that might mean the kids might practice 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. And then you have the older teams that are already established, so that be Gamecock men's hockey, and then after them it's anyone else who wants it, so we were pushed to the very back," Donnelly said. "I think that's probably one of the reasons why we became good friends, because we would all ride in the car together and be like, 'Ah, this sucks, man.'”

Mehltretter said the tight bonds that formed during late-night practices made him believe the team could make a run for the league championships.

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The South Carolina Women's Club Ice Hockey team and the U-19 South Carolina Lady Warriors get ready to face off during the first period of an exhibition matchup on Oct. 1, 2023. The game marked the first collegiate women's hockey game played in South Carolina.

I really felt the last couple practices we had before Nashville, our team was — the girls were clicking,” Mehltretter said. “They were passing hard, playing well on defense. Power plays and penalty kills was looking good in practice. The girls seemed like they were ready to win.”

The College Hockey South playoffs took place an hour outside of Nashville from Feb. 9 to 11, where South Carolina was seeded third and matched up with Auburn. It would go on to defeat the Tigers 18-3, making this the Gamecocks' highest scoring game of the year. 

The next playoff opponent for the Gamecocks was the familiar foe of Georgia. Once again, it would defeat the Bulldogs by a large margin,13-2, to earn it fourth win of the season against the team and advance to the championships.  

One player who was a big difference-maker was first-year sport and entertainment management student Alyssa Nardslico, who scored three goals in each of the first two playoff games. She also led the team with 17 goals across the entire season, ranking her third in the entire conference.

In the championship game, South Carolina would take on Tampa, the No. 1 overall team in their division. Tampa was also undefeated, but it had played six more games than the Gamecocks, putting the team at 9-0. Despite Tampa having four wins in which it led by 10 or more goals, Donnelly was was confident that her team could beat the Spartans, she said. 

Tampa scored one goal in the first period and two more to start the second, putting the Gamecocks down three goals early on. But even with the deficit, Giard said she and her teammates were determined to get back into the game.

Whenever we were down 3-0," Giard said. "We just kept trying. We were like, 'No this is not it. This is not it at all.'” 

The Gamecocks managed to rally and score three goals of its own to tie the game at 3-3 heading into the third period. This gave Giard and her teammates a newfound sense of confidence, she said.

"We were sitting on the bench. We were like, 'Oh my god, we can do this. We can win,'" Giard said. "So we gave everything we had." 

South Carolina was not able to maintain its comeback, though. With two minutes left in the game, Tampa scored its fourth goal to win the championship 4-3. 

Despite the championship loss, South Carolina still had a momentous season. Not only did the team finish second in the division, but it amassed four women's all-conference selections, tying Georgia for the most out of any team. 

This season was significant in the world of women's hockey. It was the first season for South Carolina's women’s club hockey team, and it was also the inaugural season of the College Hockey South Women’s Division. This league has not only helped pioneer hockey in the South, but it is pushing the boundary for women’s hockey as both Georgia State and Alabama's women's teams are set to join the league next year.

“There's a lot of girls out there that are younger than college that are in high school ... don’t know what they're going to do after high school, and that are they going to still be able to play hockey?" Mehltretter said. “But knowing that if they stay down here in the South, that there's actually a division out here that they can come out and play hockey still — competitive hockey, win championships — that's going to mean a lot, and I’m hoping that these younger girls see that ... I’m happy that it's starting to grow everywhere.”

The women's club hockey team hopes to build on this season's success and win next year's championship by getting more practice time, playing more games in the regular season and spending time together off the ice, Mehltretter said.