They didn’t want their season to end while they sat in an airport.
That was the stark possibility that faced the Ohio State women’s hockey team on Sunday as it awaited its flight home from Minneapolis, having lost to Minnesota 2-0 in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association tournament semifinal Saturday. That meant the Buckeyes needed an at-large bid to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
“Not knowing if we were going to make it or not was a horrible feeling,” freshman forward Tatum Skaggs said.
The team huddled around a laptop to watch the selection show. There, surrounded by strangers at the Delta gate, the Buckeyes erupted when their name was revealed. Ohio State will play at Boston College at 1 p.m. Saturday in a quarterfinal.
“Seeing our name was the best feeling,” senior defenseman Dani Sadek said.
For Sadek and her fellow seniors, this is the culmination of an often-torturous journey. Two coaches were fired earlier in her career — one for alleged harassment and the other for NCAA rules violations.
Of the 36 athletic programs at Ohio State, the women’s hockey players felt theirs was near the bottom of the pecking order.
“It was very frustrating — those years,” Sadek said.
The turning point came when Nadine Muzerall was hired as coach just before the start of the 2016-17 season. She had never been a coach but was a two-time All-American at Minnesota and a Golden Gophers assistant on four national championship teams.
At Ohio State, she instituted a culture overhaul stressing accountability, ethic and gratitude. The Buckeyes made progress last year and with the addition of talented freshmen, they’ve reached unprecedented heights this season. The No. 5 Buckeyes (23-10-4) have set a school record for victories.
“They have that desire and that … vinegar,” Muzerall said. “They’re blue-chip but blue-collar. They’re more my style.”
Muzerall believed the Buckeyes’ resume warranted an at-large bid despite the loss to Minnesota, but it was no sure thing. During the agonizing wait for the selection show, she told her players to remember the feeling of having no control over their future.
“That speech was unbelievable,” Skaggs said. “It kind of choked me up. Never ever do I want my destiny in someone else’s hands.”
Now that the Buckeyes are in, they’re determined to make the most of it. Ohio State has never played Boston College (30-4-3), the NCAA runner-up in 2016.
The Eagles are a high-scoring team featuring freshman Daryl Watts, who has 82 points and is a finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award given to the country’s best player.
“Boston is a lot like Minnesota where they bleed hockey,” Muzerall said. “They’re not a big, physical team, but they’re fast and have depth in their lines and a very talented defenseman.”
Ohio State has played the past three games without goaltender Kassidy Sauve. She wore a brace on her right knee on Tuesday but is optimistic about her chances to play Saturday.
“I’m doing a lot of rehab and should be good to go,” Sauve said. “I feel good. I’m in the process of being cleared.”
She, like her teammates, is determined to enjoy every moment of an NCAA Tournament experience that would have seemed out of reach not long ago.
“It’s unreal,” Sadek said. “It’s the cherry on top for all of us seniors, for sure. It’s been a long ride, and to end it like this is amazing.”