Glenelg’s season had come to a disappointing end with a squandered third-period lead and a loss to conference rival Atholton in the Howard Cup. The Gladiators discarded their red and white jerseys and the season’s state championship hopes as the arena cleared out. But for Holly Erbe and Karen Hudson, the weekend was just getting started.
Less than 12 hours after the puck dropped in Columbia, the two were en route to a weekend tournament in New Jersey with their travel team, the Washington Pride, to play in front of college scouts instead of classmates.
Kush Sidhu founded the Pride in 2001 as a way for the top local girls’ hockey talents to stay home and pursue their dreams of playing in college, albeit with a rigorous schedule. Over the last decade, the team has emerged as the area’s premier all-girls hockey club.
Nearly all of the 88 graduates in the program’s history had the opportunity to continue on at an NCAA program, but some opted not to play hockey or to play other sports, Sidhu said. Approximately 37 percent went on to play for a Division I program.
“The whole point of the Pride is to get college recruitment,” Churchill sophomore Sarah Renberg said. “No one playing Maryland high school hockey will get recruited from that.”
The D.C. area doesn’t have many guaranteed routes for boys to pursue college hockey. Schools from Briar Woods to Landon are regularly scrambling to patch up holes on their rosters after top players leave for prep school or junior hockey. This is not an area that’s sending kids to play D-I or D-III hockey. “Go to Boston for that,” Gonzaga Coach Nate Jackson said at the beginning of the season.
Langley Coach Grady Little returned to his alma mater after a junior hockey stint in Texas. He experienced the difficulty of transitioning directly to college hockey from this area firsthand.
“For me, the experience I had trying to play college hockey, I needed to leave after high school,” he said. “But these girls, they have all the tools they need in the area right here at their disposal.”
The Pride plays in the Junior Women’s Hockey League, which Sidhu co-founded in 2007. Members include teams from Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota and Canada.
Competition ranges from local matchups against St. John’s (a 9-3 win) and Liberty University’s Division I club hockey program to meetings with elite boarding schools like the North American Hockey Academy in Vermont, where the nation’s top girls go to complete their high school classwork remotely and train three and a half hours per day.
“It’s a huge commitment. We have practice almost every day and are away almost every weekend. It cuts into social life and sleep,” said South Lakes sophomore Dylann Nasr, who once went straight from a Pride game (which runs an NHL-regulation 60 minutes) to a Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League game.
“I think it’s really important to get to play for my high school,” Nasr said. “It’s fun. It’s not as serious, and it’s nice to take a break and get to play in front of your friends.”
The Pride spends August through April balancing classwork and regional road trips, all while juggling NVSHL or Maryland Student Hockey League commitments. Daily practices transition into hour-long workouts on the top level of the Rockville Ice Arena.
Hudson spent her freshman year at the Gunnery in Connecticut before she heard about the Pride and decided to move home and attend her local high school. It worked out well for Glenelg — she was second in points through the regular season and was selected (along with Erbe) as a captain for next year.
The Pride has hosted players from as far away as Japan, as well as New Jersey, New Hampshire, Florida and Georgia. Two current players moved to the area from Pennsylvania and live with Pride teammates during the season.
Jenna Vance is from Colmar, Pa., and was homeschooled from a young age, mostly because her parents knew she eventually would be leaving to pursue hockey. But the closest prep school was 18 hours away.
Vance and her mother spent some time researching the Pride and well-known alumna Haley Skarupa, Boston College’s leading scorer, and decided to send Vance to Maryland instead of Minnesota.
The goal is to keep talent local, such as Jessie Lutz, who played for the Pride before moving on to Connecticut to play college hockey. Lutz netted the go-ahead goal for Switzerland in the team’s bronze medal victory at the Sochi Olympics.
“Our program is first and foremost for Washington-area kids so that we don’t miss out on stellar hockey players,” Sidhu said. “Our kids need that opportunity, and we’re here. ”
The Pride recently added under-16 and under-14 teams to ensure that aspiring college athletes or Olympic medalists can compete on a national level, time willing.
“If the Pride wasn’t around, I’d probably be playing for Churchill or a boys’ team just to get on the ice as much as possible. I’d still be trying to play,” said Madison Farrand, a Churchill sophomore and second-year Pride member.
“But ever since I was 10 and learned about the Pride, everything has been about getting onto this team.”