High school hockey programs don't freeze out girls Record five playing on county teams


Good Counsel senior Vicky Urbas laces up her ice skates not to cut figure eights in the ice, but to deliver checks to forwards lingering in the crease.

When field hockey season ends in November, Oakland Mills junior goalie Kelly Naylor retires that stick for a longer one more suited to slap shots.

Urbas of Highland and Naylor are two of the record five Howard County girls making history in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League.

Howard High, a member of the league's Central Division, leads the way with three girls on its roster -- senior Nikki Sharp, sophomore Shauna Foote and senior Carolyn Wilburn.

"It's fun to watch them play because they just love the sport," Howard junior center and team captain Matt Shagogue said. "It also shows that hockey is not just a goon sport for males only."

Last week, when Good Counsel defeated Oakland Mills, 6-5, nary a head in the stands turned when Urbas and Naylor started for their team's defensive units. When Naylor dropped a Good Counsel forward to the ice with a check, however, a few eyebrows shot up.

"I've played with Vicky since I was 5 or 6 years old," Oakland Mills senior captain Andrew Rosado said. "She's just as good as anybody on the ice."

"I really don't notice her," Urbas said of her hockey friend.

"I just treat Vicky as another player," said Naylor, who began playing hockey at age 7 because she lived close to the Columbia Ice Rink. "Vicky and I grew up together playing hockey. She's a year older than me, and the divisions are in two-year increments, so we would play together a year, then she would move up."

Naylor said that while growing up on the ice, playing with the boys was never a peer or parental issue.

But Good Counsel coach Andy Collins realizes there could be problems as boys' size and competitiveness grow.

"If Vicky weren't as good as she is, I think there would be an acceptance problem with the guys on the team," said Collins, who played hockey at Harvard. "There would be a lot of resentment if she weren't what she is -- a great skater who can work the puck and set up a play like a quarterback."

Urbas, at 5 feet 4 and 115 pounds, and Naylor, at 5-7 and 150 pounds, possess opposite styles on the ice. Urbas uses her skating speed to out-finesse attacking forwards.

"I use my quickness more to my advantage rather than my brawn because I'm a little smaller," Urbas said.

Naylor, a slower skater than Urbas, plays a more physical bump-and-dump defense.

"Kelly is very strong and smart," Oakland Mills coach Bill Campbell said, noting Naylor's 4.0 grade-point average. "We put our best skaters and most physical players on defense because we have a young goalie that we want to keep the puck away from."

Urbas and Naylor have played defense throughout their hockey careers, but Naylor realized at 13 she would need a weight-training program if she were to continue to play with males in high school.

"At that age some of the boys were getting to be 6 feet tall," said Naylor, who can bench-press 150 pounds. "With the strength I've added from weightlifting, I don't feel intimidated on the ice."

Urbas said physical intimidation on the ice is the biggest reason female hockey players begin quitting the sport as high school approaches.

"There were a handful of girls when I first started playing hockey 12 years ago at the mite and squirt level," Urbas said. "But a lot of girls stop at eighth grade because it gets a lot more physical."

Howard's Sharp, a figure skater for seven years with no previous hockey experience, was attracted to the sport last year because of its physical nature.

"I was always such a tomboy growing up," said Sharp, 5 feet 2. "Figure skating just didn't excite me. It was very individual, and I enjoy the team aspect of hockey."

Howard assistant coach Matt Todd, who skated with the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team while living in Alaska, said Sharp's inexperience has not prevented her from mixing it up with her opponents.

"Nikki's very strong and aggressive," Todd said. "She's not afraid to take a hit or go into the corner after a puck."

Sharp, who plays left wing on the second line and has a couple of assists for Howard (1-4), said her parents are supportive of her switch to hockey.

"My mom is very typical, asking me after every game if I am all right or hurt," she said. "My dad never misses a game."

Hockey won't end for these girls once they graduate from high school. Sharp is planning to play for a Howard County club team. A couple of them may play in college.

Urbas, an honor student at Good Counsel in Wheaton, is being courted by Princeton, Brown and Providence to play for their women's teams.

"I've visited them all, but my first choice is Princeton," said Urbas, who also may play collegiate lacrosse.

Urbas will have a chance to see the girls from Howard in a Feb. 3 game at Piney Orchard Ice Rink in Crofton.

Urbas welcomes Lions girls to the ice, but she have safety concerns for newcomers to the sport.

"High school is a little late to start," she said. "If you can't skate and you aren't real smart, you can get hurt, especially if you are a girl and aren't ready for some of these guys checking you."

Todd doesn't see this influx of female high school players as a one-year phenomenon.

"These girls walk the Howard hallways telling everybody how much they love playing hockey," Todd said. "That's the purpose of this high school league. We're not selling the philosophy of winning but of having fun."

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