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Growing up in rural Nebraska, most aspiring athletes dream of attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to join the football or volleyball team. Others dream of playing basketball, wrestling or running track for one of the Huskers’ legendary teams.
Audrey Wilhelm is carving her niche in a less traditional Nebraska sport - hockey.
Wilhelm, a 2016 Clearwater-Orchard graduate, is one of the founding members of the UNL women’s club hockey team. Although not an athlete in high school, the Orchard native jumped at the chance to join the team when approached, fueled mostly by a childhood love of the game.
“I’ve been skating since I was little,” Wilhelm explained. “My dad builds an ice rink in our backyard every winter. And I started playing hockey when I was in kindergarten or younger, so I’ve been playing for a while. I’ve just never been on an organized team before.”
The women’s hockey team returned to campus this year when a group effort was made to reorganize the team for the first time since it disbanded in 2010 due to low numbers. The team started off their first year back with a preseason scrimmage in which they mixed teams with the men’s club team earlier this month. Since being recognized by the university as a club team in March, the team has been very busy.
“We have practice every Wednesday and Thursday for an hour each night,” she said.
Wilhelm said she has used the practice opportunities as a chance to improve in the game. With this being her first time playing organized hockey, she is learning a lot of the ins and outs of the game. Being a fast skater, she is used primarily as a wing, a scoring threat. Therefore, she makes sure to focus on her offensive skills in practice.
“I’ve just been working on improving my technique for passing and shooting,” she said.
It won’t be too long before she puts those improved skills to the test. The club starts the season on September 30. They will play their home games on campus at the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center and will spend quite a bit of time on the road for their other games.
“We travel to other states for some of our games,” Wilhelm explained. “We’re playing against Iowa and Iowa State. Minot is in North Dakota. We also play some Colorado teams, Colorado State and Colorado University.”
Wilhelm is part of a growing trend toward hockey in Nebraska. Traditionally a popular sport in the northern portion of the country as well as Canada, the craze has made its way to the Midwest in recent years.
Nebraska boasts various amateur teams such as the Omaha Lancers, Tri-City Storm and Lincoln Stars. UNL’s sister school in Omaha has been a traditional NCAA powerhouse. Wilhelm hopes the enthusiasm for hockey carries over for to the women’s club team as she has already seen a lot of support for them on campus.
“When we scrimmaged with the men’s team, there was a lot of people there watching,” she said. “It’s becoming more popular in Nebraska. Some of the girls on my team are from Omaha and there are a lot more teams then there were just a few decades ago, so it seems to be growing.”