By: Sean Flanery GoPSUsports.com, Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Four years ago, when senior Lindsay Reihl (Cheshire, Conn.) made Penn State her college choice coming out of high school, she thought her dream of one-day playing Division I hockey was over.
Upon arriving in University Park, Reihl became a star defenseman on the university's women's club team, the Penn State Lady Icers, which competed in the Eastern Collegiate Women's Hockey League at the non-NCAA level in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
While with the club team, Reihl thrived on the ice helping to lead her team to an ACHA tournament appearance in 2010, as well as an ECWHL regular season title in 2012. The Connecticut native was also named the team's Defensive Player of the Year during each season she spent at the club level.
However, during her third season with the Lady Icers, Reihl's dream of one-day competing at the Division I level, which had previously seemed to vanish, came to life again.
"As soon as I heard that [Penn State] was adding a Division I team, I wanted to play for it," said Reihl. "It's had always been my dream to play Division I hockey, but I just never thought that it would actually happen, so when I heard [Penn State] got a team I just tried to work really hard. This has been an amazing transition. It's an unreal experience playing Division I hockey and I love it."
It wasn't too long after the hiring of head coach Josh Brandwene to lead the Nittany Lions that the team announced the addition of 12 new players to the inaugural seasons roster, one of which being Reihl. The defensemen's dream had become a reality right before her eyes and the opportunity had practically fallen in her lap.
As time passed, the dream Reihl was finally living kept expanding. In mid-September just before the season began, the team collectively took a vote on who would become the assistant captains alongside junior captain Taylor Gross (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Once again Reihl's name appeared. The senior became one of Penn State's two assistant captains, alongside junior Jenna Welch, it its inaugural campaign.
"It was awesome because I didn't have any Division I experience myself, but now I am a leader on the team," said Reihl. "I can teach everyone our Penn State ways and I had help from Taylor and Jenna. They're awesome co-captains. They've just helped with the whole Division I transition and they're really awesome to work with."
With both Gross and Welch transferring from Connecticut last year and 17 freshmen coming in to fill out the program's roster in its first season, it was vital for Penn State to have a leader that was familiar with the university.
"It's great," said Gross. "Lindsay and I have become really good friends and it's great to have experience on the team. Especially in hockey and school wise, she has done a really good job of helping the younger girls adjust."
Now, Penn State (7-20-2) is no longer a team compiled of transfers, former club members, and freshmen, but it's rather a battle-tested seasoned group as coach Brandwene so often puts it.
Penn State's progress this season may not always show on the scoreboard, but due in part to the tremendous captaincies of Gross, Reihl and Welch, the Lions have created high hopes for a bright future for women's hockey in Happy Valley.
"I think we have come a long way since the beginning of the season," said Reihl. "In September, we had seventeen freshmen and now everyone has equal experience. Everyone is working together, we're meshing, and the chemistry is amazing. We have come a long way and I think we are playing some of our best hockey right now. I'm excited to see what we can bring in the playoffs."
With only four games remaining, the Nittany Lions hope to fine tune some areas of play before the team makes its first ever College Hockey America tournament appearance.
The next drop of the puck for Penn State will be this Friday night at 7 p.m. in the first of a two-game series with Rochester Institute of Technology (12-13-5).