This looked like their year.
The Cornell women appeared to have a realistic shot at capturing their first NCAA women’s hockey title.
And, then, in a flash it was over.
“I felt like my class had come in strong our freshman year and although we had the same goal of winning the National Championship every year, this year it seemed so attainable,” Cornell senior Grace Graham said. “I especially feel bad for our coach, Doug Derraugh, who is yet to win a National Championship. He is hands down the hardest working coach in the NCAA and I think we had a real shot this year.”
While the Big Red lost their chance to try and win a title, Graham knows there were certainly no guarantees.
“In reality, we don’t know what the NCAA Tournament had in store,” Graham said. “Although we had big goals for the season and a chip on our shoulder after losing in the ECAC Tournament Championship game after an undefeated season in the league, each game in the NCAA Tournament was going to be single elimination so we could have lost out in the quarterfinals, or we could have gone all the way to earning ourselves the title, but nothing was guaranteed. Although we cannot know how the season would have played out, being denied the opportunity to prove ourselves was really disappointing to say the least.”
It was a tough way to see the season end for the seniors, but Graham knows the situation was tough for everyone.
“Obviously, it was an extremely hard way to end my final year at Cornell,” Graham said. “Not only was an abrupt ending to my undergrad, but playing my last hockey game in the Cornell jersey without even knowing it was heartbreaking. As hard as it was for all of the NCAA athletes, I know that we are not the only ones hurting from this experience and I am just thankful to be healthy and safe with my family.”
One of the toughest things was the uncertainty as things changed so quickly each hour for the athletes and coaches.
“As NCAA’s approached and other things were starting to get canceled, we all knew in the back of our minds that an early end to our season could be a possibility,” Graham said. “At first it seemed almost wrong that my last game in Lynah Rink was going to be fanless, because Lynah Rink’s atmosphere makes it truly an incredible place to play hockey. From the huge local support, rowdy student-athletes cheering us on, family and friends pregame tailgates, and the Cornell Pep Band, I think that the arena has one of the best fan bases in all of women’s hockey. The team carried on and prepared as if the scheduled games were a sure thing and we actually found out about our season being canceled only 15 minutes before our weekend prep penalty kill meeting.”
It was tough for all the athletes, especially the seniors, to see things end like this.
“Although this whole pandemic seems very surreal, all of the emotion that came with knowing that we couldn’t finish our season felt very real,” Graham said. “Working towards this goal for four years and going into the tournament with an almost perfect season gave us so much belief that this could be the year.
“It was for sure harder having my last year end in this way. It is hard enough for any senior on the team to accept that your time being part of such an incredible athletic and academic institution is up, bu tthe lack of closure makes it difficult to even believe that it’s all done. It was an extremely abrupt goodbye to not only my teammates and college hockey career, but to literally everything that encompassed my Cornell experience. As difficult as these circumstances may be, the university has informed us that there will be a graduation at some point and I know that we will all reunite and celebrate our amazing experience that Cornell University gave us when this is all over.”
The women’s hockey team at Cornell is made up of players from around the world.
And, that meant when things ended, the team was spread out back to their hometowns.
“When classes switched to online and we all went home, it was all within a matter of a week,” Graham said. “At the time we didn’t know if we could all be back in two weeks or two months, so the goodbyes were sad, but still somewhat hopeful. I still don’t feel like this was the end of my Cornell journey and I don’t think it will until we all meet up there again for graduation.
“Although we are now all dispersed around Canada and the states, it’s pretty cool to think about the experiences that I had where hockey players were united from coast to coast of North America in the small town of Ithaca. Literally the hometowns of my teammates range from British Columbia to Happy Valley, Goose Bay, California to New England and all in between. Part of me was sad because I thought that there would be people that I wouldn’t get to see again, or at least for a very long time, but we are such a close-knit team this year that I know that I have created life-long friendships with these people. Obviously it’s not ideal to have close friends living across the country from you, but I know that e will all keep in touch and meet up again somewhere.”
Now, Graham is graduating college, and on to the future, and she’s not 100% sure what that means next year, and if it includes hockey anymore.
“I don’t know what next year has in store for me yet,” Graham said. “I am graduating with a biology major and always hoped to go to dental school after my undergrad. If I get accepted I am still unsure how I am going to fill the gap in between now and then. I would absolutely love to continue my hockey career next year, but I am trying to figure out what makes the most sense. Leaving hockey behind after playing it for my whole life is difficult to think about and having my career end in this way makes it all that much harder to let go of so I am still considering doing hockey, work, school, or some combination for next year.”