Moving for the Blues

Colleen O’Leary left Seattle to play for the Lady Blues

INTENSE+ON+THE+ICE%3A+O%E2%80%99Leary%E2%80%99s+passion+for+hockey+keeps+her+focused+on+the+game.+She%E2%80%99s+built+her+skill+set+over+the+11+years+she%E2%80%99s+been+playing.+
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Moving for the Blues

INTENSE ON THE ICE: O’Leary’s passion for hockey keeps her focused on the game. She’s built her skill set over the 11 years she’s been playing.

INTENSE ON THE ICE: O’Leary’s passion for hockey keeps her focused on the game. She’s built her skill set over the 11 years she’s been playing.

Gracie Kruep

INTENSE ON THE ICE: O’Leary’s passion for hockey keeps her focused on the game. She’s built her skill set over the 11 years she’s been playing.

Gracie Kruep

Gracie Kruep

INTENSE ON THE ICE: O’Leary’s passion for hockey keeps her focused on the game. She’s built her skill set over the 11 years she’s been playing.

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At five years old as now senior Colleen O’Leary strapped on her brand-new hockey skates, there was not yet an inkling in her mind that she would be moving away from her home and leaving her family behind for the very reason she stood on the ice. As she stepped out onto the rink and struggled to keep her balance on the razor-thin blades of what would eventually become an extension of her own feet, O’Leary had not yet imagined that skating on even the most unfamiliar hockey rinks in the least familiar places would soon become instinctual; there was no way she could have known that she would one day be playing for one of the best competitive youth hockey teams in the country. As she slowly began to move herself forward on the ice of the Seattle hockey rink she would grow so close to, so comfortable with over the next 13 years of her life, she had not yet envisioned the drastic ways her life would be changed by the sport she was only just beginning.

Her balance now impeccable and her skills now honed, O’Leary, a player for section 19U of the AAA Lady Blues (17th ranked AAA team in the country), has come a far way from the little girl she was back in Seattle. Becoming part of such a highly selective team was by no means an easy process for O’Leary, and it began months before this hockey season had even started.

In April of this year, O’Leary traveled to St. Louis for a tournament, having no clue that it would alter the course of at least the next year of her life and give her opportunities she never imagined she would be presented with.

“The team that I was on last season didn’t have enough players to make it to the next year because everybody had graduated,” O’Leary said. “So while I was at the tournament, [the Lady Blues] had a trial that I attended, and the coaches asked me to [play] for them.”

One of O’Leary’s coaches, Todd Stimson, explains that recruiting players from different states is quite common for the AAA Blues. If a player has unwavering dedication and undeniable talent for the sport, the AAA Blues will make all adjustments necessary to get them on the team.

“We recruit anywhere from four to five players that are top 10 players from outside St. Louis,” Coach Stimson explained. “That does two things: it keeps us very very competitive and it gives girls from outside of St. Louis… the opportunity to get great exposure and be seen by colleges and have a great… platform to demonstrate their skills.”

Coach Stimson adds that the players who are most desired by the AAA Blues need to have a variety of strengths, from skill to sociability.

“[O’Leary] is a very talented player, very fast, skilled, knows how to score, great personality. That’s probably more important than skill; you could have a ton of skill but if you aren’t the nicest person we would probably have to pass, so you have to have good qualities,” Coach Stimson said.

While O’Leary is an incredibly talented hockey player, she has only gotten to this level with a healthy dose of dedication and determination.

 “Hockey kind of dictates everything. Like I have to practice a lot. I always have to be in shape,” O’Leary explained. “And there’s a lot of pressure, there’s college coaches and you really want to impress them.”

Though it has been trying at times, O’Leary’s adjustment to a new environment has been easier than she originally anticipated, in part due to O’Leary’s familiarity with the city.

“[The adjustment] has been pretty easy because I used to live out here for school the summer before fifth grade. I have friends [here],” O’Leary said.

While adapting to a new environment, O’Leary has found herself taking solace in her relationships with her teammates. Communication is imperative in running an efficient and successful team, so the friendships built by O’Leary and her teammates have been beneficial in more ways than one.

“[I’ve learned] that teams, like the team I’m on right now, are like one big family and everybody cares for each other. We can mess around and be serious at times,” O’Leary said. “It makes it easy for us to communicate with each other and know each other’s plans and make it work.”

Though moving to a different state during high school, even if for a sport, is not an uncommon occurrence, one aspect of O’Leary’s situation is. She moved here by herself. Her family is still back in Seattle, while she is spending the last year of her childhood away from them. O’Leary is not completely on her own, however. She lives with Taylor Wensink, a player for section 12U of the Lady Blues and a seventh grader at Saeger Middle School, as well as Wensink’s family. 

Wensink’s experience with housing O’Leary has been an overwhelmingly positive one. She is an only child, so having O’Leary has been like getting the sibling she never had.

“I was playing in Boston and we got a call that a girl needed a place to stay in St. Louis, and so my mom offered for us to have her in our house,” Wensink explained. “It’s kind of like having a sister. We just hang out. It’s normal now.”

O’Leary agrees that living with a new group of people was initially nerve-wracking, but turned out to be a great experience.

“It’s been good… It’s like a big family now. I’ve been just like part of the family and I go out with them and all kinds of stuff like that,” O’Leary explained.

While O’Leary received a warm welcome from both the Wensinks and her teammates, adapting to an entirely new routine has been challenging. Coach Stimson sees the struggles O’Leary has gone with and commends her for being so flexible and growing so much in such a short period of time.

“I think she’s matured quite a bit. I think the transition you have from being at home with your mom and dad and having that experience to then all of a sudden… you fly 2500 miles across the United States from Seattle to St. Louis,” Coach Stinson said. “The climate is different, the family’s different, your bedroom is different. You walk into a new high school and… you don’t know anybody there. So I think it’s been challenging for her, but I think she’s handled it with grace and I think she’s becoming quite an [independent] young lady.”

Having the opportunity to go out on her own and follow her dreams has been an incredibly unique and invaluable experience for O’Leary. She’s gotten the chance to focus on her future while many of her peers in these hallways have hardly begun to do so.

She’s been able to drown out the noise of the world around her and keep her eye on the ball– or puck, rather. And as the puck drops and the crowd around her goes silent, O’Leary moves along the ice and brings her hockey stick down to the puck, swiftly sliding it toward the net. At the same time, she’s working in tandem with her skates and the slick, icy ground of the rink to move towards her future in hockey and the rest of her life.

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