Sydney Collins spends her mornings at class and her afternoons at the hockey rink. The few hours she has at home are filled with schoolwork.
“My social life is hockey,” she says with a laugh.
The Toll Gate graduate is now a sophomore at the University of Rhode Island, and she’s majoring in mechanical engineering. The demanding course load is challenging enough, but Collins still finds time to lace up her skates every day for the URI women’s hockey team. She wants to keep playing.
It’s the same desire that drives everyone on the roster. Hockey is a non-varsity sport at URI. There are no scholarships and no illusions of hockey grandeur.
But still they skate.
“Just the feeling when you’re on the ice,” Collins said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like nothing else matters. You’re just out there with your team. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, you want to do it for them. That’s what keeps you going. The girl sitting next to you – it was her childhood dream to keep playing. You do it for each other.”
And at URI, you do it well.
The women’s hockey program was founded in 1999 and has emerged since then as a perennial power. URI is one of 21 teams in Division I of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The Rams have made six final fours, most recently in 2009.
This week, they departed on another trip to nationals, which are being held in Ashburn, Va. They’re seeded sixth, but they feel they’ve got a good shot to contend for the program’s first national title.
Whatever happens, nationals are another opportunity to represent the school on the ice, which is especially exciting for the team’s 14 Rhode Island natives.
“I think it’s great that a Rhode Island kid can come to the state university and play the sport,” said head coach Beth McCann. “That’s what we’re excited about.”
Collins is one of four Warwick natives on the roster. Brianna Acceturro and Jamie Claeson are fellow products of the Warwick girls’ hockey co-op team, while Vittoria Sylvester played at Bay View. Several Warwick players have come through the URI program in recent years, including former standout Danika Korpacz.
This year’s team also has players from Saunderstown, North Smithfield, Hope, Chepachet, Bristol, West Warwick, Exeter, Cranston and Cumberland.
For most, there’s a common thread. The school is the right fit, and the chance to play hockey seals the deal.
Collins graduated from Toll Gate in 2010. She led the Titans in points during her senior season. After spending a season with the Boston Shamrocks of the Junior Women’s Hockey League, she enrolled at URI.
“Playing for my home state is awesome,” Collins said. “It’s a great group of girls and it’s a good talent level.”
URI went 19-7 this season. Teams in D-I are ranked four times during the season, with the final rankings determining berths for nationals.
The Rams got the nod again this year, and they’re eager to make their mark.
“We definitely have our sights on nationals,” McCann said. “It’s a talented team that we have. We’re in the hunt for a championship. The teams right now – it’s anybody’s game. It just depends on who scores goals. That’s what we’re focused on. I think we’ve got a pretty good shot as long as we perform.”
The Rams will be seeded sixth in the eight-team field, a little lower than they were hoping for. By the same token, they were seeded second, third and fourth the last three years and didn’t make the final four.
“I think it could actually be a blessing,” McCann said. “That desire will be a little more, instead of sitting at three and thinking you’re already up there.”
The Rams have been led this season by Saunderstown native Cassondra Catlow, who has scored 22 goals and dished out 20 assists. Alisha DiFilippo of Hope and La Salle Academy is the leading scorer with 23 goals. Collins has scored 10 goals and handed out eight assists.
For nationals, Collins will relish the chance to be on the ice. She was out of action for more than a month earlier this season with a concussion.
“We came in and won 11 games straight, then we lost two and I was out with a concussion for the next month-and-a-half,” she said. “It was frustrating to watch from the stands. We lost to our rivals UMass and that was brutal, especially not being able to help out with that. I kind of felt like a lot of that weight was on my shoulders.”
She’s back on the ice now and ready to go for nationals. The Rams will open up with games against Minnesota and top-seeded Liberty today. On Friday, they’ll take on Michigan. The top four teams from the first two days of action advance to the final four.
As always, the Rams want to keep playing.
“We’re hoping to go 3-0 in our first three games, go on from there and hopefully come home with a cup,” Collins said.