By BRAD SALMEN
Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato senior girls hockey player Alyssa Olson will continue her hockey career at Grand Canyon University in Arizona.
Grand Canyon is the largest Christian university in the nation, with 70,000 students attending online, and 20,000 attending their campus in Phoenix.
The GCU women’s hockey program is a club program, not affiliated with the NCAA. It is part of the ACHA (American Collegiate Hockey Association) Division I. Many ACHA Division I players have had the opportunity to play NCAA hockey, but choose to play in the ACHA in order to focus more on school, with a lesser time commitment than the NCAA.
The Antelopes are heading into just their fourth year of existence under head coach Natalie Rossi, a graduate of SUNY Oswego (NCAA DIII). Rossi was the WWCHL Coach of the Year for the 2018-19 season.
Rossi she has seen Olson play on video, and was impressed by what she saw.
“We like the way she plays strong at the point and has an eye for the net. Alyssa is a smart hockey player that will be able to make an immediate impact,” Rossi said.
Rossi said she was able to meet Olson when she came down to Phoenix on a “Discover GCU” trip, which is a free trip provided for potential students.
“[Alyssa] is a very nice and respectful person. We are big on culture here at GCU and focus a lot on not only being good athletes, but good people too,” Rossi said. “Meeting Alyssa, she will fit in to our culture nicely.”
Olson said she chose GCU because of the welcoming campus and the opportunities it provides, along with the warm weather.
“I was able to meet the coaches, the team, and tour all the facilities and fitness centers,” she said. “The girls were extremely nice, and made it feel like home and a good fit. Plus, many of the hockey players are from Minnesota.”
LDC co-head coach Matt Hogg said two words come to mind to describe Olson: grit and determination.
Hogg noted Olson started on the LDC varsity as a freshman, before suffering a significant – and in some cases career-ending – leg fracture midway through her freshman year.
Since then, he said, Olson has consistently worked to get herself back as close to 100% as she could be.
“Late last season and this season, she finally started to fell comfortable as a player and skater again,” he said. “Alyssa is not only hard working, but she is also extremely talented and has a high hockey IQ.”
Olson switched positions throughout her career, starting as a forward before ending as a defenseman this past season, where she led the Dragons in goals (13) and finished second on the team in points (20).
“Alyssa’s ability to play forward and defense will make her a very versatile player at the next level,” said Hogg. “Coach Rossi and Grand Canyon will be getting a tough nosed, strong, highly competitive athlete that I feel will only get better as a player, because she is going to continue to work and try to make herself the best hockey player she can be.
“We will miss Alyssa’s leadership and motivation on-and-off the ice greatly next season, but we know she will continue to reflect these qualities and represent our program well in Arizona next fall,” he said.
Olson said she intends to major in nursing, with a minor in Spanish.