Lady Ducks closing in on 20 years of grassroots player development, 100-plus NCAA athletes
Having earned a dozen medals at USA Hockey National Championships and topping the 100-player mark to the NCAA, the Anaheim Lady Ducks set their sights on growing the game for girls in pursuit of their love of hockey by casting a wide net of grassroots efforts, rec-level to elite player development and a comprehensive college showcasing program.
Sitting around Disney ICE after hosting the 1998 Girls/Women’s National Championships, the Lady Ducks were born. Soon thereafter, it was a matter of counting up players to see what could be. Ten girls AND a goalie? That’s a team! Ultimately, 26 girls and two teams were formed. The story goes something like this: 26 girls showed up, 26 were signed. You have to start somewhere.
From those meager beginnings in 1999 to becoming the West’s powerhouse girls hockey program today, the Lady Ducks field teams from the spectacularly fun 6u cross-ice team to the 19U AAA level, including two nationally-competitive women’s teams – 15 teams in all.
“Its hard to believe that when I played, we were happy to have girls on our team,” said inaugural season 15U goalie Stephanie Yates. “Just fielding a team – that was success.”
Now the 8U head coach and program goalie instructor, Yates backstopped the Lady Ducks program to its first Pacific District Championship in 2001, later moving on to play her college hockey at Utica College. After college, she stayed out East as an assistant coach/goalie coach with her former team before she returned to California with career plans and the chance to give back to the girls program where it all began.
“It is so motivating to work with our young players starting out,” said Yates. “Every day, they improve at something, especially the goaltenders. I hadn’t even started playing at this age and now they are so excited about blocking shots and wearing goalie pads.”
Player Development Is Key
The Lady Ducks program focuses on growth and never cuts 6U, 8U, or 10U players as you never know who is going to really take off, so create the environment to learn the basics. The Lady Ducks in Training program offers even the most raw beginner a chance to work at the American Development Model clinics and get started playing in the program. Skills and more skills help create fundamentals.
“My daughters, Mila (9) and Norah (6) both started by attending Girls Try Hockey Day, which brought them to the Lady Ducks in Training,” Raj Advani explained. “Being around other girls in hockey made it fun. The coaching was fantastic so their progress was great. Each of them are thriving on their 10U and 8U teams this season.”
Female Coaches – Mentors
The Lady Ducks boast a powerful resumé of high-level women players, former NCAA athletes and coaches who are in Southern California working to prepare the next generation. This is just one of many components that helped the Lady Ducks become recognized in 2016 as a USA Hockey Model Association. The development is there. The mentoring is there.
“As a defenseman, my favorite coach was Danielle Ramirez, who played defense for Vermont,” said 16U AAA player Maddie King.
Former Providence women’s hockey player and SoCal native Laura Veharanta has enjoyed giving back to local players following her successful collegiate hockey career and international roller hockey success.
“My favorite childhood memories are from my days playing hockey in California and I’ve learned so much through those experiences,” she said. “It’s great to be coaching here now and offer the same memories and opportunities today.”
The 14U AAA, 16U AAA and 19U AAA teams have talent depth and travel to compete against top North American competition in front of scouts, leading to Division I and III college opportunities.
Currently, there are more than 30 Lady Ducks alumni playing in the NCAA at schools like Division I St. Lawrence, St. Cloud, RPI, Clarkson and Lindenwood and Division III programs such as Buffalo St., Trinity, Colby, NEC, Elmira and Plattsburgh, to name a few.
The Lady Ducks program supports players all the way to a “good fit” college by working with NCAA coaches to match up players with schools. Caroline Marchant stepped in from the get-go and learned the process.
“We quickly recognized that player support was going to be key for my own girls as they reached recruiting age, so I took on the roll of college liaison, built a rapport with every NCAA coach and began a college tour for high school-aged Lady Ducks,” explained Lady Ducks general manager Caroline Marchant.
Marchant’s eldest daughter, Lillian, is playing at Lindenwood and younger daughter, Ashley, is a high school senior finishing up the recruiting process with no plans to slow down.
“Next year, we are going to visit at least 10 Midwest schools,” Marchant said. “We will keep up a rotation so ninth, 10th and 11th graders can see virtually every area of the country with women’s hockey.”
Ivy Boric, a high school junior, added: “It’s literally a 12-campuses-in-six-days kind of tour. We go visit the campus, a class, the women’s hockey locker room and arena. You really get a feel for the kind of school where you would fit.”
The Lady Ducks program begins this process at 14U. Seminars are held, including recruiting “dos and don’ts” and how to write a recruiting email. It’s very comprehensive. More importantly, the prep time and support is without cost. It’s just part of what the Lady Ducks do as part of college prep support.
NCAA Women’s Hockey: It’s A Process
Girls who play 14U and older will get introduced to the recruiting process and supported all the way through as their college options are presented, lists are made and academic and athletic matches are narrowed down.
Division I athletes get scouted as early as eighth grade, so if a player is really at the high end of the spectrum, they are involved in the process early, during 14U AAA years. Other Division I athletes are narrowed down in ninth and 10th grade. By 11th grade, Division I players have completed their commitment process and must finalize their grades and complete academic requirements.
Division III recruiting starts just as the D-I process ends. Division III schools look at players in their 11th and 12th grade years, as these schools are not handing out athletic scholarships. While D-III schools have financial aid and the usual academic awards, players don’t get a “full ride,” as they say. Most AAA and AA players fit into this category.
“We encourage our athletes to do their research and select from schools where they would attend regardless of a hockey program – it needs to be the right fit,” Marchant emphasized. “These young women will not play hockey forever, and attendance at a university that gives them academic support and opportunity to compete as an athlete is the way to go.”
Where To Go From Here?
Lady Duck alumni are now women’s hockey Olympians, doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers, writers, coaches and professionals of all backgrounds and interests. Not only do the Lady Ducks meet on the ice as NCAA teammates and rivals, they also cross paths as women in business.
“The Lady Ducks have been much more than just a hockey team for my girls,” Advani commented. “They are teaching them to be strong, independent, confident women through empowering team building experiences, coach mentoring and the family environment built here.”
Next up: The Lady Ducks will bring college hockey to Southern California as Lindenwood will play St. Lawrence on Jan. 5-6 at the Honda Center. April will bring several college coaches in town for the Lady Ducks College Development Camp. And in 2019, the USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships have been awarded to the club.
On the horizon – developing the second generation of Lady Ducks, who play and follow in their sister’s or even mom’s footsteps into the greatest sport in the world.
— Kathy McGarrigle
(Dec. 7, 2017)