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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Girl’s got game

By Hannah Blank

Playing with the boys has never been an issue for freshman Anna Stensland. Having spent the better part of her youth as the only girl on her co-ed team in the Seattle Junior Hockey Association, Stensland has no trouble competing at whatever level she is placed in.

It’s no surprise that nothing was going to stop her from continuing to play hockey in college, even the lack of a women’s team. As one of the goalies for Western’s club hockey team, Stensland gets to continue practicing her passion as the only girl on the team.

Hockey goalie Anna Stensland prepares as two players skate near her with the puck.
Anna Stensland, left, keeps her cool in goal during a game against Boise State University on Oct. 21. // Photo courtesy of David Costello

“She blew our minds,” teammate Jake McCallum said.  “She performed better than any of us expected absolutely on par with [the starting goalie’s] performance as well, which will hopefully result in her getting more playing time.”

McCallum continued to say that as far as the team dynamic goes, Stensland’s presence has not changed how they approach the game and their competitive attitudes.

“One of my favorite parts of playing boys is going out there and being able to compete right with them,” Stensland said. “Showing them I’m just as good as they are.”

One of Stensland’s long-term goals is to start a women’s club hockey team at Western. In order to do so, she first needs female-identifying students to sign up. With enough students, Stensland can create a club through the Associated Students and the funding provided would allow her to further establish it as a club program.

“There’s not a lot of girl hockey players at this school but there are definitely people who are interested,” Stensland said. “I’m basically starting a beginners program and building it from there.”

To Stensland, hockey is a part of life. With an older brother who played, she said she was always at the rink. By the age of 3, after a learn-to-skate program, Stensland jumped straight into the game herself. At 6 years old, Stensland said she realized she loved the sport.

After playing co-ed for many years, Stensland switched to the Western Washington Female Hockey Association where she was on an all-female team.

With dreams of playing college hockey, Stensland began to look into universities on the East Coast where women’s hockey teams are present. The West Coast simply does not have women’s hockey at the university level.

With the intention of leaving Washington, she ignored all of the in-state universities. When Stensland’s plan to move to the East Coast didn’t pan out, she looked into what the state offered and discovered Western. With small class sizes, a medium student population and in a town she knew she loved, Stensland said she found a hidden gem.

The downside? There wasn’t a women’s hockey team.

However, as luck would have it, Cameron Budnick, a teammate of Stensland’s when she first played co-ed hockey at 8 years old, reached out and said Western’s men’s club team was in need of a goalie for the upcoming year.

“She played for the Western Washington Female Hockey Association and she was a good goalie for them – a couple years ago they were second in the nation,” Budnick said. “We needed a goalie and I knew she might come [to Western].”

Stensland got connected and started talking to Coach Larry MacDonald, who eventually offered her a spot on the team.

According to assistant coach Colton Liebelt, Stensland is very coachable and learns quickly, which is all a coach can ask for in a player. He continued to say that when put in games, she exceeds expectations and makes big plays for the team.

“It’s a lot of fun honestly,” Stensland said. “They treat you differently because you’re a girl but it’s [not] a bad different – you have more of a chance to impress them.”

*This story was updated Nov. 2. It previously stated that Stensland was the first woman on the team.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article for highlighting a female player on a men’s team. Anna’s ambition to start a women’s team is an admirable goal. I wish her all the best recognizing her contribution to Viking hockey would be greater than any male player. Keep us informed on her efforts.

  2. Good article, but inaccurate. Katie Kellner, a forward, was the first female player for WWU when she played in the Feb. 20, 2000 win against WSU in Bellingham. She played an additional 13 games in 2000-2001. Jill Leonetti, a goaltender from Spokane, played in 4 games for the Vikings that season in 2000-2001, debuting on Nov. 10, 2000 against Gonzaga. She earned her first home win in Bellingham on Feb. 4, 2001 against WSU. All of these games were in the ACHA. Leonetti played in net for the Vikings in 17 more games through the 2003-2004 season.

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