By Katie Salvo and Sarah Carlsen
“Hockey is pretty much my whole life,” said Jamesville-Dewitt High School freshman Emilie Harley. Harley, along with freshman Ellie Wheeler, have attended multiple national and state tournaments as part of the Syracuse Nationals Girls Tier 1 hockey team.
In 2011, Harley and Wheeler went to the national tournament in Detroit, Mich. Their team made it to quarterfinals, but both girls felt they could’ve made it farther. This is because “the whole team’s spirits were down,” said Harley due to the fact that on the way to the tournament, two members of the team were involved in a car accident. The driver fell asleep at the wheel, and the car went into a ditch. One of the girls involved had to receive surgery and skin grafts on her right arm. “She had to completely switch to using her left hand,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler and Harley’s team did not make it to nationals in 2012. They placed second at the girls hockey state tournament, one place behind what they needed to attend nationals. Both agreed that the team was not as unified as the previous year. “There was lot of drama and cliques,” said Harley. “People criticized others and talked behind their backs,” said Wheeler. Harley also said that the older girls on the team did not act like the leaders they were expected to be. “Our coach wasn’t the best, and there was some bullying,” said Wheeler.
Harley also attended nationals in 2013, located in San Jose, Cali. Harley said even though the team didn’t go as far as their previous trip to nationals, it was still a great experience. “We spent a day at the beach as a team. That was probably my favorite memory,” said Harley. They ended up making it to pre-quarterfinals, one step behind where they went in 2011. “It was a great chance for the team to bond,” said Harley.
In order to go to nationals, the team must win states. Throughout the season, the Syracuse Nationals play exhibition games to get ready for the state tournament. They can play up to four exhibition games in one weekend. Other tournaments, like the Bauer Invite in Detroit, as well as Fire on Ice in Rochester, also help the team get ready to compete at states. Playing the teams that they will compete against at the state tournament in an exhibition setting is one of the main things the team does to help themselves prepare.
“Hockey is one of those sports that requires you to stay committed. We miss some school when we attend tournaments,” said Wheeler. She also said that hockey takes up a lot of free time, and there is not much time for social events. “They’re never open to do stuff. It’s like they have no free time whatsoever,” said freshman Alex Frank, who is a good friend of both Harley and Wheeler.
“Even in the offseason, you have to stay in shape,” said Harley. “From a young age, we were taught about nutrition and dedication,” said Harley. Both Harley and Wheeler have been playing since they were only four years old. They practice twice a week, and their weekends are filled with hockey games. Harley and Wheeler practice year-round, but they play games from September to around April. “It’s a big commitment, but I love what I do,” said Harley.