What Olivia Soares’ debut as NCAA D-III assistant coach means — Kaylee Herndon talks Pod Squad — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Anne Tokarski, November 18, 2021

Former Ohio State women’s hockey captain Olivia Soares will make her NCAA coaching debut this weekend as her D-III Colby College White Mules take on Williams College in Massachusetts — making her among the first Black women coaches behind the bench this season for an NCAA program.

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She joins the ranks of then-NWHL standout Nina Rodgers, who split her professional tenure with the Connecticut Whale and the Minnesota Whitecaps, and Kelsey Koelzer, who became North American professional hockey’s highest-drafted Black player when she went first overall to the (again, then-NWHL’s) Metropolitan Riveters in 2016. While unlike Rodgers and Koelzer, Soares made the transition to coaching without first starting a professional career, there is very little doubt about her capacity to succeed behind the bench.

As someone who had the pleasure of watching her play during my first year as a student at Ohio State, I know that Soares is a consummate leader on the ice. She was the type of captain her teammates could look to in times of duress, but she wasn’t the type to put herself on a pedestal or act above anyone because of her status. Throughout her tenure, she remained kind, humble, and incredibly open to improvement — qualities that helped her and the Buckeyes on their path to winning their first ever WCHA Championship in 2020. That winning mentality, along with her leadership potential, will make Soares an excellent coach at any level she pursues.

Before their rebrand this past off-season, the PHF’s motto used to be “See it. Dream it. Be it.” And while it sounds corny (and is a little trite; not every woman needs to exist as a role model for the younger generations and the sacrifice of a woman’s goals, dreams, and aspirations for herself in favor of acting as a role model and making things better for future generations is one that is as controversial as it gets…but we can get into that another time), there’s no doubt that Soares’ coaching debut undoubtedly means a lot to a lot of people in college hockey, myself included.

To all the little hockey players that see themselves in her, that see a future for themselves in hockey after playing…that’s something special too. And that’s worth celebrating.

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This Week in Women’s Hockey

NCAA Division I Women’s Hockey recap (Nov. 15, 2021) (USCHO)

Team Scotiabank (Calgary) wins PWHPA Showcase in Truro, NS (The Ice Garden)

Penn State alum Jessica Adolfsson and Team Sweden are headed to the Olympics (Penn State University)

How Native American hockey star Abby Roque is bringing diversity to her sport (Today)

University of Minnesota adds exhibition game against PHF’s Minnesota Whitecaps (University of Minnesota)

Hilbert College to enter NCAA D-III ranks in 2022 (USCHO)

Five at the IX: Connecticut Whale’s Kaylee Herndon talks social media, big splashes to start the PHF season

Those who follow the PHF and its teams on social media have definitely noticed a shift towards more thoughtful, engaging, and interactive social content — and part of that is because of staffers like Kaylee Herndon, social media manager for the Connecticut Whale! The IX chatted with Kaylee about how she got her start in women’s hockey and what she envisions for the future of the franchise.

Question: You’ve worked with the PHF and the Connecticut Whale for some time now, first as an intern. How did you get into women’s hockey and how did you come into this role?

Kaylee Herndon: I worked with the Reading Royals in the ECHL two seasons, which gave me a wonderful start in hockey. Being in the industry led me to meet Dan Rice, who connected me with the Whale when I was looking for a new opportunity. Juliana Nikac had just started in her role at that time and I just kind of fell right into place as her intern! I had left after the season since my “internship” was up, but when the team transferred hands I found my way back and into this role.

Women’s hockey has become a huge passion for me, obviously with an intense bias for the Whale. I have a major respect for these players. They, like me, work other jobs in addition to playing hockey. With me currently working three jobs (my full time work, coaching fencing, and managing social for the Whale) I do my best to take into account the fact that everyone has things to balance outside of hockey. There will be some content highlighting this aspect of our team coming out this season on social!

Q: Tell us a little bit about your role with the Connecticut Whale and how your position and duties have evolved over the four months you’ve been working for the team.

Herndon: My official title is Social Media Manager but I do wear quite a few hats. Currently I am a one-woman social team, however we are actively seeking and interviewing potential interns to help me out.

In addition, I make sure large portions our sponsor and partner contract aspects get fulfilled, do a little bit of marketing, am working on some game presentation aspects for future games, and have meetings with various team connections. My role title may expand to reflect all of these other duties in the near future.

As a pride point for me – I planned and successfully executed our media day with about a week’s notice. I have some content we will release over the next few months, similar to our roster release video, from that day that I am very excited for.

As for photography, this weekend against the Pride our photographer could not make it out, so my beginner Nikon and I took on some in-game photography. I’ve found myself adding photography into my job responsibilities quite frequently – to make sure social content for sponsors is fulfilled, to fill in when a photographer cannot be there, etc. It is a learning curve, I have not had too much in-game photography experience in my career so far!

Q: Speaking more in terms of on-ice play now: The Whale have historically been one of the PHF/NWHL’s biggest underdogs, but the past two weeks have seen them split two series and even take down the defending champion Boston Pride. What has it been like to watch that evolution, first as an intern, and now as a longer-term contributor?

Herndon: I absolutely love that the Whale are seen as underdogs. To see an organization and players work so hard and begin to see the payoff is more than worth all of the late nights I spend making sure that the team gets the social presentation they deserve to have. At the end of the day, I relate to the team’s story personally. Always working hard, not letting failure or hard moments keep them down, and always ready to rally and come back stronger, better, and successful.

To see them beat the Boston Pride this weekend was really special. The Boston weekend was my first time getting to work Whale games in person. I got to see the team rally on Saturday and recover from a two-goal deficit and hang on to keep a point. Then to see them come out on Sunday ready to keep up the energy and successfully take down the reigning Isobel Cup Champion was very special. It was a great game to have as my first in-person win for the Whale.

Q: The on-ice goal is always the Isobel Cup…but what are some of your goals as a member of the off-ice team behind the team this season?

Herndon: In short? To do my best to make sure these players and the team get the social media representation and presence that they deserve to have.

I want to grow in my role and help with other aspects as I can in order to continue to push both us as a whole and myself to be better and create great opportunities for the team. I am very excited for this season and think we are off to a great start!

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
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Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Anne Tokarski