For the first time in program history, members of the Ohio State women’s hockey team hoisted the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship trophy above their heads March 8, and the team was poised for more firsts thereafter.
Having knocked off the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country on back-to-back days to secure the conference tournament, the Buckeyes proved they had a shot to go undefeated the rest of the way to contend for a national title.
That dream ran short, however, when the NCAA canceled the remaining winter and spring sports seasons March 12 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We weren’t thinking about the coronavirus at all. We were thinking about practice, getting to the national championship and winning it,” head coach Nadine Muzerall said. “Our girls were at the airport and at the gates and the bags are loaded on the plane and we had to get the call to go back to campus.”
Redshirt senior defenseman Jincy Dunne said that although the team was aware of the news and travel and health precautions, the Buckeyes never thought COVID-19 would interfere with their season.
Ohio State was three games shy of competing for its first national championship, and after beating the winners of 10 of the past 15 NCAA titles in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Ohio State could not have been hotter.
With a 24-8-6 record, the Buckeyes accomplished a program-best .711 winning percentage. Ohio State finished the season ranked No. 4, putting it ahead of women’s hockey’s most decorated program in Minnesota.
“What made it more sweet to win was that it’s the toughest conference in the country, playing back to back,” Muzerall said. “It’s a lot of emotionally draining and mentally draining, but it’s how we won. It’s very hard to beat a team like Minnesota, being down three different times in the game and come back to win it.”
With the Final Faceoff accounting for four seniors’ last moments in an Ohio State hockey sweater, Muzerall agreed that the bittersweet ending to the season was the right decision.
“Our No. 1 priority is the health and wealth of our student-athletes,” Muzerall said. “As a coach, just a piece of your job is Xs and Os and winning games, but it’s really about the student-athletes’ experience and protecting your student-athletes. You look their parents in their eyes and promise them you’re going to take care of their baby girl.”
With stay-at-home orders in place in all but five states, the Buckeyes are adjusting to their daily lives back at home. This unprecedented time off allows for mental and physical recuperation that wouldn’t be feasible during the season.
“I’m taking the time to really rest. I know after this, I get out in the real world and figure out how I’m going to balance training, work and school,” Dunne said. “I don’t get much time with [siblings] anymore and one day looking back, I’m gonna be glad that I had this time with them.”
NCAA hockey teams play 34 games during the season, which spans across six months of regular- season games and one for a postseason run.
“This is the moment to pause. Far too often as coaches we never have time and are looking into the next steps,” Muzerall said. “I think it’s God’s way of saying, ‘Focus on your family.’ It’s a good lesson to learn: We can only control our controllable. We have to take advantage of this time to be a better person.”