By Briana Zuccarelli, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- From the time she was able to walk, senior Irene Kiroplis' father had her in a pair of ice skates.
"I started playing hockey when I was five years old," the current Penn State senior, Kiroplis said. "My dad and I would go to the local community rink and I would sit on the ice until I could stand up and then we'd try again the next day."
"That's kind of what started my journey with Penn State," Kiroplis explained. "My first impression was that this place is incredible and it's huge. It's a new school with an old fashion feel, which made me think of my old town Georgetown."
Coming from Ontario, Canada, Kiroplis had to learn quickly how to adjust to living in a different country while playing a Division 1 sport and balancing schoolwork. To many this would be difficult, but a mature Kiroplis was not challenged by it. Instead, she did what she had to do and became a leader to the other international students.
"I'm sure she (Kiroplis) can attest to this, but being international students, we have to do a lot of stuff outside the rink when it comes to sorting different paperwork," said freshman Katie Rankin, who is also from Ontario. "She's been really helpful in that sense. She's really made this transition smooth for me."
Kiroplis said that the transition to Penn State wasn't easy because she didn't understand all the documentations that needed to get done. On top of that, she had no clue what a grade point average (GPA) was and had to learn quickly how the American grading system worked.
"I've really been trying to help the younger girls understand what they need to do it terms of visas and documents, that I didn't quite understand," said Kiroplis. "I also helped explain to them what a GPA was, what professors to take, what courses to enroll in. Basically, taught them how Penn State works, that way they have a head start and don't need to spend two or three years figuring it out."
Head coach Jeff Kampersal talked highly about the mature senior and explained that many of the players look to her as a role model. Behind the scenes, Kiroplis has done more than the coaching staff knows about and that is something they recognize.
"Irene had done a good job of walking the walk and taking advantage of the great opportunities at Penn State," said Kampersal. "She is a caretaker and I know our team feels comfortable going to her to have some fun and to ask academic questions."
With that fun personality of Kiroplis, comes the annual Canadian Thanksgiving. When Kiroplis joined the team her freshman year, she was the only player from Canada and found it hard to celebrate her country's holidays especially without her family. Each year since, Kiroplis has put together a little something for her Canadian teammates to remind them of home.
"For the past three years, I've put on a Canadian Thanksgiving for me and my Canadian teammates," Kiroplis said. "I would bring them a home cooked meal into the dorms where they don't really get that with Pollock chicken and weird vegetables. It makes them feel a little more comfortable and a little less homesick."
Fellow Canadian, Rankin, recalled the great memories she shares with Kiroplis since the first time she got here. Rankin explained that the personality Kiroplis has makes her feel comfortable to be around her and gives her that little piece of home she's missing.
"She has such a kind soul," said Rankin. "I think just being in her presence and hanging out with her, makes it easier for us to feel at home here. It's nice to have that other international student, who's a senior, that we can all look up to."